It was just a few years ago that I regularly scanned a list of mainstream developer and IT rags on a weekly basis: ComputerWorld, Visual Studio Magazine, SD Times, JDJ, and the list goes. Then one day early last year the thought hit me and I was a bit stunned to realize that I’d stopped reading online magazines. The vast majority of my technical info was now coming from blogs, online help docs and dizzying amount of internet searches. So, what happened? I have some theories that I’ve been thinking over the last year, but I can’t really nail down anything for certain. So, it’s most likely a combination of these five concepts below.
Rapid Change. My first thought is that technology has been changing so rapidly that simply digesting the changes and understanding them takes a huge chunk of time. Huge. I’ve blogged about this a number of times. This trend cuts across the entire tech industry. The upside is that innovation happens overnight and fixes as well as new features come out quickly. The downside is it’s harder for everyone to stay on top of all the changes across updates to features, libraries, SDKs, smartphone operating systems and browsers.
Super busy. My second thought is: in addition to staying on top the über release cycle of web and mobile technologies, I’ve been so busy with project work that I simply had to narrow the scope of what I was reading. It’s a balancing act and there’s only so much time in the day. Superfluous information seemed to just slow me down, or worse it felt like a distraction from the day’s objectives. And in today’s online environment there is such a huge flow of information. So, there has to be a way or mechanism for focusing and filtering the fire hose of inbound data.
Irrelevant Info. My third thought is that every time I try to go back and read mainstream rags that I find myself sifting through a bunch of stuff that isn’t relevant to my immediate or near-term needs. Like I mentioned above, a good portion of it often seemed to be superfluous. Don’t get me wrong: online magazines offer well written and well thought out information. But, I felt the extra information, or perhaps even information overload in some cases, slowed me down. If it takes time to sift through article after article looking for a specific topic, my inclination is to go back out to a search engine and narrow down my search parameters.
Online Search Engines. Search engines have done an excellent job of (rapidly) indexing online technical content. I don’t need to mention them by name because you know all the players. At work we’ve often joked about a pattern we call “coding by search engine.” The pattern goes something like this: copy a class name or error message, paste it into the search bar and then skim through the results. If you have to go more than one page deep in the search results then stop and redo the search. Mostly gone are the days of sifting through reams of paper documentation or digging around in some esoteric corner of a vendors website. I don’t think most customers will stand for that anymore. I think more information is instantaneously available at our fingertips now than any other time in history. It is astonishing, really.
Forums. My final thought is the voice of the developer community has never been more important. Online forums, such as Stack Overflow, have become to be perceived as definitive sources on technical questions of all kinds and about all different sorts of programming languages. I’ve been in many conversations where, right or wrong, someone interjected with a comment about something learned on Stack Overflow, or similar sites. These sites are well indexed by search engines, the community can vote answers up or down, and many brilliant and knowledgeable players contribute their knowledge. These are excellent, speed-of-light resources that are freely available.
So, there you have it. This is my two cents of what I’m reading these days and why I think I changed what I read. Leave a comment or email me about how you get your technical info injection. I’m really curious to hear your experience.
* Clip art courtesy of Microsoft Office 2007.