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Let me share a personal story about how reading a book transformed my professional life.
I had a lot of books when I was a toddler and a small kid. I remember that my grandpa was reading a lot to me and most probably my mother as well.
In elementary school, I was a great student. Most of the years I finished with the best grades possible except for PE and music.
You might imagine how much I loved reading, except that it was not true. I loved playing on the computer in a shady room, that’s what I truly cherished.
I skipped most of the required readings because I knew I wouldn’t be asked about them. I also didn’t learn the quotes and poems. I was not called out for them. I understood how the game is played and I did the least necessary.
Most probably the problem was that I didn’t find interesting books and the mandatory reads were not so interesting at the age when we were supposed to read them.
On the other hand, when I liked a book, I read it quickly, forgetting completely the world around me. During the 8 years of elementary, there were 3 books like that.
The Eclipse of the Crescent Moon which is a historical novel about the times the Ottoman Empire was conquering my country and my ancestors were fighting against the Turkish occupation in the 16th century.
The second was The Heartless Man’s Sons which is again a historical novel from the XIXth century Hungary, in particular about the revolution and freedom fight of 1848/49. I was happy when I had to reread these books in high school, moreover, I reread both on my own as I liked them so much.
The third book was also a biggie, especially for an elementary school 6th grader. I was sent to a text comprehension competition by my headteacher and she gave me the Lord of the Rings. It completely grabbed me into its fantas(t)y(c) world and after the competition, I couldn’t wait for the other books.
This was the first book that caused me disappointment as a movie. Even though it was an awesome one. But the book is so rich, it engaged my mind, my imagination so much that no film can ever match it.
But apart from these books, I didn’t read a lot, only car magazines, a bit later PC magazines but those were too expensive for me, and anyways my computer was not performant enough to run the newest, shiniest games.
Yet when I liked something, I couldn’t put it down. I was an extremely picky binge reader.
Binge reading became a permanent reading during university, I clearly became a book addict. I don’t remember which year exactly, but it was quite in the beginning when I picked up the Count of Monte Cristo during the term exams’ period and I read all the books in about 9 days. Hell were I reading a lot!
I always had one book with myself. Some friends were accused of being so snobbish that I wait for them at the pub where they served so cheap red wine with coke, with a book in my hands reading. Nothing like that. I was simply curious. I was simply fascinated by the worlds, the knowledge opened up through those printed pages.
My personal library was growing and I needed more and more space for my books. I started to work, and I kept reading on. It helped me slow down at the end of the day.
Three years into my first corporate job, after I started interviewing for a new position, someone asked me, Sandor, what’s the latest book that you read on Database Management?
It struck me.
I silently replied that none, I read no professional books. I read the articles. I didn’t add that those were not articles but mostly answers from StackOverflow…
The manager I was talking to said yes, the same for him. Maybe it was a white lie so that I don’t feel so bad, maybe it was the truth.
Well, I had on my CV that I love reading and I do, but I didn’t read any professional books, even though I’m pretty sure that is some even on MS SQL Server, the technology I had to deal with on a day to day basis.
I was - in fact I’m still - interested in politics, literature and that’s what I read. I was amazed by the dedication of my team lead that he read a book on MS SQL Server. I never convinced myself to read that book. It seemed dry and unapplicable. I was so young.
At the age of 28, after a couple of years of working experience, I changed hats and I started my developer journey. Stackoverflow, cplusplus.com they were my best friends. Let’s be honest, mostly stacko where there was example code that I could copy-paste.
Soon I learnt the syntax and a couple of basic rules and I stopped passing objects by value and I started to mark references as const by default. After a few months, my learning curve slowed down. I felt I was not good, and I didn’t understand when I should not comment, why on Earth I should extract more functions and God forbid classes when I can do everything at one place.
Yet, my attitude towards reading professional books didn’t.
I didn’t start reading books and nobody gave me one. I don’t say that it would have been someone else’s responsibility to make me read, but as a mentor, I do recommend books to everyone I’m mentoring and even to those who I don’t mentor, I consider it so important.
The transformational moment came about half a year after I joined. My manager left the managerial path and I asked my new boss after a few months how I could get better. Rubens told me that he thinks I’m on the good track to grow away from being a junior, but I’d need to learn more, I should read some books.
He recommended me to read Code Complete.
I started to read it and it was tough. That was my first book on programming and up to that point, I didn’t read (m)any books in English, only in Hungarian.
I progressed little by little. I read every night. Even during our vacation, I was reading during most of our 5 and a half hours journey on the TGV going to Paris instead of looking at the landscape or discussing with my wife about the coming week.
While I found it difficult to comprehend all the details, a whole new world opened for me. In fact two worlds, one about better code and the other about an endless source of knowledge.
After finishing Code Complete, I saw my code through completely different glasses - not only because I got new ones thanks to the French healthcare system - and the quality of my code and deliveries started to increase. Let’s say that the nature of the comments I received in my pull requests drastically changed.
The second book to read didn’t come automatically. I still asked for recommendations and I also didn’t start it right away. But soon, reading technical books became a habit.
A life-changing one.
I started to actively look for books to read building my own reading list and in fact ever since I read almost every day, including technical books that I read on every workday.
Rubens by recommending me Code Complete clearly changed my life. Maybe he was not the best manager I ever had, but probably the one with the biggest impact on me.
Thank you, Rubens, if you ever read these lines!