Moving beyond "the book"

If there's one bit of sage advice I could pass on to new developers, it would be this: know when to move beyond "the book". I don't want to discredit or otherwise do disservice to any of the authors of programming books out there; these are nearly universally really smart people and do a great service to their various programming communities by codifying their knowledge and expertise. However, it's important for would-be developers to realize that people write books as a job. Even if you start off writing as a side-gig, more often than not, at least assuming your writing is successful at all, it will subsume so much of your time that it becomes your primary profession. That's not a bad thing, but it does mean that most authors of programming books are not out there in the trenches day in and day out working with the platform. Now, of course, this isn't without exception, and again, even to those it does apply to, it doesn't mean that they aren't still really smart and knowledgeable about the topics they write about. What it does mean, though, is that they are very much fallible. There will be times when the advice they suggest ranges from flat out wrong to simply misguided.

My point here is that I will, at times, be helping some new developer, struggling with some issue, and my advice will be met with "Well, that's not what so-and-so said in such-and-such book." I don't have any delusions that I am never wrong, and it's entirely possible in such situations that perhaps it is me who is wrong about that thing. However, the simple fact that some book someone wrote says that my advice is incorrect is not a valid argument. There was a time in my own development that I had to make the mental break with the book. It's the only way to truly grow as a developer. At a certain point, you have to put down the books and make your own way. Sometimes the advice of these learned souls will guide you, sometimes it will distract you. You become skilled at what you do when you can learn to tell the difference, when you can see where that piece of advice you gathered is hurting, rather than, helping you, and adjust accordinging, when you can be okay saying that's not the best way after all and have the confidence in yourself to know you're making the right call.

So, once more, I'm not denegrating "the book". I've stood on many shoulders to get where I am today. However, I do want developers everywhere to truly understand that ultimately, no one but you can truly say what is or is not right for your application, and the usefulness of the advice of others is only as powerful as its applicability to your situation. By all means, read voraciously. Take in everything these authors can give you. But, don't allow yourself to become trapped by their advice. Allow yourself to grow beyond the walled-garden contained between the covers of the book.

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