It’s cliché, but the one thing that never changes in the tech industry is that things are always changing. As of writing this I’ve been out of college about 10 years; the devices, environments, and technology I learned are so wildly out of date now that if I hadn’t continued learning, I’d have virtually nothing to offer a client.
We try to make learning and growing a priority at Coffee and Code. We love attending (and speaking) at conferences, and we’re always discussing the latest blog articles and industry news. But for a deeper understanding and more thorough levels of discourse, books are often the answer.
Anecdotally it seems like books have a love/hate place in the tech world. We like to praise authors and retweet new book announcements, but when push comes to shove many of us turn to quick answers on Stack Overflow or social media and blogs almost exclusively. Books seem to be a nice luxury for a company lounge, but not truly essential to our work anymore.
In order to explore books more fully and take our learning as a company to the next level, we started a book club. The rules are simple, choose a book as a team then break it out into reasonable chunks. Set dates to have discussion on the most recent section. The simple act of splitting a book up into sections and discussing each as a group has been refreshing. Peer pressure is an amazing force to leverage to keep yourself accountable (diet and fitness social apps lean heavily on this).
We’ve learned a few things along the way I wanted to share:
Picking titles is hard, but worth spending time on.
Choosing books that suit multiple team members, but also push your team outside their comfort zone is a tricky balancing act. Inevitably a book will probably be below someone’s skill level and likely above someone else’s (and possibly not even in their interests).
If you have a diverse group, trying to alternate between different subject matter is a solid approach. Part of the appeal though is being forced to read something you might not otherwise.
We started out with Git for Humans by David Demaree. Git is something we all use, but have very different backgrounds and proficiency with. Choosing broad topics for the first few books is a good way to get used to the format and the schedule.
Strive to accommodate format preferences.
Some people (I’m one of them) just aren’t fond of longform reading on a computer screen (or tablet/phone). This means paying the extra to get physical copies, or making sure your team has access to e-readers.
Be reasonably aggressive with your schedule.
Everyone is busy; especially in our industry. There’s always something to do, and the pressure to go ‘above and beyond’ is constant: speaking and presenting, blogging, attending Meetups, contributing to open source projects; it all adds up quickly.
It’s easy to set super long deadlines for each chapter or section, but pushing yourself a bit keeps the pressure on and helps you get through each book quicker.
Embrace honesty and have a little fun.
Nothing is set in stone here, if your team misses a session or everyone is a bit behind their reading nothing is going to fall apart. If you haven’t read the section, be honest about it. A little friendly shaming might help a team member who is behind, but remember this is all to help each other grow and learn.
Similarly, if your book discussions veer off on some tangents, that’s fine too. Learning isn’t always a linear process, and inspiration and growth can come from unexpected places.