I Wish Tech Books Had Shorter Chapters

By Gavin Davies on 12 Septmber 2019

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I like reading. I like getting better at things. The two are, in my view, intrinsically related. This shouldn’t be a revelation to anybody! However, one weird thing stops me from reading as much as I’d like to…

I like reading. I like getting better at things. The two are, in my view, intrinsically related. This shouldn’t be a revelation to anybody!

In my role doing what gets called “DevOps” by some people and other people get angry about being called “DevOps”, I can muddle along with unfamiliar tools by cobbling together blog posts, Stack Overflow comments and the like. To me, it feels like like having a floor covered in Lego and trying to figure out what the model looks like. Furthermore, many of those Lego pieces are not even really for the model you’re building!

img/lego.jpg Legoverflow

I find that using blog posts and other “piecemeal” information to learn a thing has these disadvantages:

  • Not necessarily reviewed
  • Partial, fragmentary
  • Unstructured

That’s not to say these mediums aren’t useful - they totally are! I’m just trying to show how books serve a different purpose

A book, however, has certain advantages over “piecemeal” information:

  • Coherently structured with learning in mind
  • Provides context
  • Reviewed and trustworthy (hopefully!)
  • Specific to the thing you’re trying to learn

I find that with a book I can really absorb a topic, I soak it in like Spongebob (who I am too old to know who he is but am assured behaves like a sponge). With tech books, I am being walked through a topic in a logical order by an expert and I am fairly confident I’m not being misled and I’m not getting sidetracked. Great! Time to level up! There’s just one thing that holds me back from devouring several a metre of books a year. It’s going to sound petty, but:

MOST TECH BOOKS HAVE APPALLINGLY LONG CHAPTER LENGTH!

We’re all busy. I have small children and a modular synth habit to feed. Some days I can snatch maybe twenty minutes to intentionally focus on learning. If I have read a chapter of a book, that feels like progress. It’s a digestible unit - I could tell my mum I’d done it. In doing so, I really get a sense of progression.

Unfortunately, though, most tech books have massive, towering, daunting chapters, thirty or more pages long, of turgid, in-depth information. This is incredibly hard to digest. I have given up on more books for this reason than for any other. I realise this makes me look a bit lame and you’re not wrong! I just get discouraged when my eyes are drooping, my brain is full and I’m twenty pages from the next bonfire and oh dear I’m talking about Dark Souls again.

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I get why long chapters are a Thing - sometimes there’s a lot to get through, but just like in good software development, surely it can be broken down into smaller, coherent parts? Surely that’s what we do as engineers?

So, to the authors of tech books, thank you for your service, but for the sake of all time-poor engineers who want to keep learning - please, for pity’s sake, keep your chapters short!

Speaking of which…

I’ve written a short eBook (E-Book? EBook? eBook? Ebuq?) provisionally entitled “Git Discipline”. It’s not ready for primetime yet but it has VERY. SHORT. CHAPTERS. If you’d be willing to proofread it, please get in touch!