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// Tales from software development

What you're looking for is at the end of the book

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Something I noticed a long time ago but have never formalised: when you’re struggling with a technical issue and you pick up a book that you think might help you, the index entry will point you further towards the end of the book in direct proportion to your current level of knowledge of the technology and the difficulty, or obscurity, of the problem.

For example, let’s say you’re trying to load and execute an some .NET code in an AppDomain. Something that ought to be straightforward but, equally, something that not many application developers ever need to do. Your code nearly works but there’s a weird type deserialization issue that results in failure. So you pick up your favourite .NET bible and look up ‘AppDomain’ and the index says something like ‘Page 798’ and you think, “That’s weird, this index page is only page 804.” You turn to page 798 and there’s a page and a half covering the whole subject of AppDomains and you quickly realise that your knowledge and experience is already way beyond what’s covered here.

So you find a book that covers the specific subject. The title looks promising: “Everything you need to know about the CLR and AppDomains” (no, it doesn’t really exist but there are several books in print that cover the subject). You look in the index. There’s a few promising references that you check each one but they’re all references to fairly straightforward topics that you already understand. Finally, there’s one reference left. And, again, the page number is very close to the end of the book: page 478 but the book only has 485 pages including the index!  At least page 478 appears to cover the subject area that you’re having problems with but it’s just regurgitating the MSDN documentation and there’s little added value here.

I think the problem arises because most software development books are now written in advance of a product or technology being released. So the manuscript is written against a beta, or earlier, release and the author concentrates on the 80% of the subject that will be most relevant to readers wishing to get up to speed as quickly as possible. The remaining 20% is the tricky stuff that probably isn’t even implemented in the beta release or is very buggy if it is. But, of course, this is the area that we all need help with once we’ve got experience with the technology.

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Written by Sea Monkey

July 5, 2009 at 2:00 pm

Posted in Comment, Development

Tagged with ,

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