Over the past few of years I have read a lot on programming and other technical topics. Some of the books have been very in depth with lots of detailed code examples. It’s easy to say you read a technical book on a given topic. It’s harder to say you understand and retained what you have read.
I found myself trying to read as many books as I could and not truly comprehending the topic I was reading. So over the past year or two I have found a couple of tips that have helped me slow down and become more productive when reading technical/programming books.
Tabs, lots of tabs.
No I’m not talking about browser tabs. When I read any technical book I use page tabs and mark pages that have content that resonates with me or I find to be very useful.
You can use any color system, this is just the one that has helped me. Any type of page tabs will work. I use something similar to this. Also it is important to have these things everywhere! I keep a set in my personal desk, work desk, and my backpack. I can always mark things down no matter what I am reading.
Read it twice.
Another great tip that has gone a long way is to read each chapter twice before moving on to the next chapter. I first heard about this when reading Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends & Influence People. This is great advice. This forced me to slow down and understand the concepts that I am reading. I can’t even think of how many times I have re-read a chapter and realized I missed a subtle detail or technical tidbit that was important. It may take me twice as long to read a book but I get far more information out of it.
Make it a habit.
Making reading a habit can be difficult. When it comes to technical books going long periods of time without reading can really trip up your learning. Only reading a few pages every few days or once a week makes it hard to remember what the topic or context was the last time you read it. It’s similar to not seeing code you wrote in over a week.
Make it a habit to read every morning or night. Even if it’s for only 10 minutes. It’s a lot easier to remember what you read for 10 minutes last night than what you read for 30 minutes a week ago. This was one of my greatest struggles but I can assure you that it really does make a difference.
Use a bookshelf.
In Cory House’s Pluralsight course Becoming an Outlier: Reprogramming the Developer Mind he suggests having a bookshelf at work. Having a bookshelf with your programming books can help serve as a positive reminder of the topics you have learned. People can see topics you know or are interested in, which can help start conversations between developers. Making your skills more visible to other developers can make you more valuable to a team. This can also help identify what topics would be most valuable for you to read up on.
These are just a few of the things I have tried that have really helped me become better at reading programming and technical books over the past year. I’d love to hear other peoples ideas and advice on this topic in the comments!