Friday, March 14, 2008

All I need to know I learned in... the library?

I was fortunate enough to attend a school for a year that had an amazing library. Not just for computer science, but for everything, from what I've heard. Clearly, since I'm a software guy, I only cared about their collection of computer science books, and they certainly didn't disappoint.

If you could find it on O'reilly, you could find it in this library. After I went there for the first time, I was hooked. Never in my life had I viewed going to the library as an exciting experience. I wanted to go to the library. I'd spend 90 minutes browsing the shelves.

Then, for reasons we won't go into, I transferred schools. I ended up at a pretty decent community college for a year while I was transitioning, and I was deeply saddened by what I found in that library. So, what's my point?

Those books are there for a reason, and they are free. Take advantage of them.

Computer science is one of only about a handful of professions that is pretty "take-home". Maybe that isn't true for everyone, but the vast majority of people in this line of work, namely programming, take their work home with them. It's not necessarily because they are work-a-holics, but simply because they love doing what they do. Their brains don't allow them to just "turn it off" and leave some programming issue for the office. They enjoy solving problems. Unfortunately, sometimes people's jobs depend on them taking their work home with them, but we won't get into that. In fact, this paragraph needs to be it's own entry, so I digress...

Basically what I'm saying is that you can't be the best programmer that you'd like to be by relying on your college courses to teach you what you need to know. I may not be done with school yet, but I'm not exactly naive on this matter. Your college classes teach you very little about what being a programmer means. In part, it's not their fault. They have to keep things at a general level to allow for a vast number of technologies that the students may have to work with. Still though, you have got to put in the work outside the class room. I don't think I need to belabor this point too much as if you've made it through at least 2.5 years of a CS/SE degree, you truly do love what you are doing. Also though, you will be expected to continue to learn when you graduate. You'll have to use a language at work that you may hate, or may not know at all. You'l have to learn API's you've never even heard of, etc... but you can't give that as an excuse to your boss. There will be some degree of toleration for your lack of experience in a particular area, of course, but when it comes down to it, if you want to keep your job and do well at it (which in-turn means you'll enjoy it a hell of a lot more), you've got to put some effort in "off the clock". I'm not saying you have to ssh in, vnc, whatever...and start writing your work code from home, but you will have to crack a book (or 5 as I find myself doing) and soak up some knowledge.

Take advantage of your schools library instead of taking it for granted. You'll be surprised how much you enjoy reading. Not a bad place to meet girls either, especially when you are carrying around fancy sounding programming books...

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