Learning and Staying Current in .NET Development, Part 2

Here are more ways to build and supplement your programming knowledge.

Stack Overflow

stackoverflow.com is a free programming question and answer site.  Search the existing database or ask and answer questions to build reputation points.  Lots of talented developers commit their brainpower to making the stackoverflow community great, so it’s worth checking out.

Personal projects

Always have a personal project that you enjoy working on, and make sure to write code every day, even when your job doesn’t require it.  If you don’t like programming enough to do it outside of work, you may want to reconsider if software development is right for you.

Open source projects

Contributing to open source projects helps you demonstrate your abilities to prospective employers because it makes your work easily accessible.  It also shows that you’re self-motivated and committed to your own education.  SourceForge.net is currently the largest open source development Web site, while CodePlex is hosted by Microsoft, and freshmeat.net indexes Unix and cross-platform software.

Blogs

Read developer blogs to see what others in the industry are up to.  NOOP.NL maintains a list of the top 200 blogs for developers.  That should keep you busy for a while.

Developers on Twitter

What goes on in the minds of other programmers?  What are their daily routines like, and what do they choose to share with the world?  Much like the list of top blogs, NOOP.NL maintains a list of top developers to follow on Twitter.

Your own blog

Writing your own technical blog can make you a better developer and help you earn the respect of your peers.  Why?  Because making a good programming blog is hard.  In order to write authoritatively on any subject, you should know that subject inside and out.  Just coming up with blogging topics can be a challenge.  If you’re having trouble, read the advice of other technical bloggers.

Tweet about programming

Rather than just read about other people’s lives, open a Twitter account and try to write something programming-related every day.  It will force you to read the news and think about what’s interesting.  If you don’t want to bore your followers, that is.

Programming competitions

Programming contests help you hone your skills by pitting yourself against other developers.  It’s fun to win, but just participating can help you gauge and improve your abilities.  Check out Google Directory for all kinds of challenges.  TopCoder is one place where the competitions are going on all the time.

User groups

User group meetings are a good place to go for networking.  They can also be an opportunity to practice your public speaking skills.  Teaching others is one of the most effective ways to learn.

Magazines and journals

Magazines like MSDN Magazine and Visual Studio Magazine release monthly issues available in “dead tree format” and online.  You may be able to get subscriptions for free if you’re an industry professional.

Certifications

Although this is a controversial topic, I do see at least some value in studying for and taking certification exams.  Doing so helps you round out your knowledge, and if nothing else it gives structure to your learning and a goal to accomplish.
Whatever you do, don’t delude yourself into thinking that certifications are all you need.  At best they are a supplement to the coding and reading you should already be doing.

Social news sites

“Social” news sites are news sites with a reader-participation element, such as voting on articles.  Digg, Reddit, and Slashdot fall into this category.  While some of the material appearing on these sites is legitimate tech news, there is often a lot of noise to filter through.  It’s up to you whether it’s worth it.

And finally, the #1 most important resource for developers

When in doubt, Google.  The search engine is such an essential tool that we often take it for granted.  There’s even a site, “let me google that for you“, that pokes fun at those who refuse to perform their own searches.  Don’t underestimate the value of good search skills.  Nobody knows everything, but finding new information efficiently is fundamental to job performance.  Take a look at Google’s search tips if you haven’t already.

Learning and Staying Current in .NET Development, Part 1

This series lists some of the resources I use to educate myself and stay informed about new technologies.  Take a look if you’re a fledgling developer just starting out, or if you’re simply looking for a new way to keep up-to-date.

These are mainly aimed at the Microsoft development stack, but many are transferable to other platforms.

Microsoft resources

MSDN Flash Developer Newsletter

You can subscribe to MSDN Flash if you want to get news delivered directly to your inbox, or you can just go to the Web site and view the latest issue in your browser.

MSDN Events and Webcasts

Check to see if Microsoft has any in-person events near you.  The presentations are informative and you’ll get the opportunity to network with other local developers.  Sometimes they even give out free stuff like books or software licenses.

The event portal also links to various Webcasts in case there aren’t any live events in your region.

Channel 9

Channel 9 is a community for learning, and a place to get videos, podcasts, and screencasts. You can also watch shows and participate in the forums. There is a ton of content here, and there’s always something new.

DreamSpark

If you’re a student, DreamSpark will get you free access to all sorts of developer tools that would otherwise be prohibitively expensive.  Visual Studio, SQL Server, and Expression Studio are just some of the products offered.

Beta software

Don’t underestimate the value of downloading software while it’s still in beta.  Visual Studio in particular is known for it’s very high-quality pre-release versions.  A good way to guarantee you don’t fall behind is to become an early adopter.

Books

Even in an increasingly online world, books are ideal for assimilating large amounts of information at once.  Do yourself a favor: take a break from clicking and start flipping pages for a while instead.

The Pragmatic Bookshelf

Pragmatic books are concise, well-written, and authored by people who are clearly passionate about the subject matter.

O’Reilly

O’Reilly has historically published some of the best technology books available, although their consistency has declined somewhat in recent years.

Classics

The Mythical Man-Month

Provides several insightful essays like “The Mythical Man-Month”, “The Second-System Effect”, and “No Silver Bullet”.  A must-read, even if it is showing its age in some parts.

Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software

Also known as the “Gang of Four” (GoF) book, Design Patterns is full of elegant solutions to commonly occurring problems in software design.

Other books I’ve read and recommend

C# in Depth: What you need to master C# 2 and 3 by Jon Skeet
This is for serious C# developers who already have a background in the language.  Skeet’s thorough coverage, attention to detail and precise wording make this an awesome learning tool and reference.  The second edition is due out in August.

The Passionate Programmer: Creating a Remarkable Career in Software Development by Chad Fowler

More inspirational than technical, this book offers numerous tips for becoming a great developer.

Coders at Work by Peter Seibel
Peter Seibel interviews 15 notable programmers.  I’m only a few chapters into this one so far, but it’s fascinating to probe the minds of those who have been so influential in our industry.

Joel on Software: And on Diverse and Occasionally Related Matters That Will Prove of Interest to Software Developers, Designers, and Managers, and to Those Who, Whether by Good Fortune or Ill Luck, Work with Them in Some Capacity by Joel Spolsky

Joel is known in part for his widely read blog posts, several of which have been bound together here in book form.  And yes, that really is the subtitle.

Hackers and Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age by Paul Graham

It’s interesting to note Graham’s support for Lisp, and the increased adoption of Lisp-like features into new languages since this was written.

The Cathedral and the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary by Eric S. Raymond

If you struggle to find anything new while reading this book, it’s only because it’s been such an enormous influence over the past decade.

Just for Fun: The Story of an Accidental Revolutionary by Linus Torvalds

Any developer who remembers tinkering with code at a very young age will relate with nostalgia to Torvalds’ geekiness.  This story is indeed fun.

Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution by Steven Levy

Ever wonder how hacking began?  Real, true hacking that started around the 1950’s?  Hackers offers a peek inside the world of those who lived it.

Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas R. Hofstadter

This is not a programming book, but a clever, philosophical work of art.  It’s not for everyone, but if you have a curious and analytical mind you might enjoy it.