Book Review: Become a Passionate Programmer

If you have to make yourself a New Year’s resolution, resolve to be a Passionate Programmer (or a passionate whatever-you-are). Chad Fowler wrote a delightful book, The Passionate Programmer: Creating a Remarkable Career in Software Development. What Chad doesn’t realize is that you don’t have to be a programmer to read this book. You can have any role in software and benefit from reading this book.

The book is organized into 5 parts:

  1. Choosing Your Market
  2. Investing in Your Product
  3. Executing
  4. Marketing…Not Just for Suits
  5. Maintaining Your Edge

Chad has 8-13 lessons/guidelines/suggestions in each part. Some of my favorites are:

From Choosing Your Market: “Coding Don’t Cut It Anymore”, Fowler says you should learn the business domain of your product. I also liked “Be a Generalist” and “Be a Specialist” in this section. Why both? Because you need to know how things work outside your (small) job label to be really effective. And, you need to know specialized content to be great at a job. Luckily, Chad has “Act on it!” sections to help you see what to do.

In “Investing…”, the lesson I liked best was “On the Shoulders of Giants”. If you read existing code (or tests or project plans or requirements), what insights do you gain?

In “Executing” the lesson I liked best was “Say “No””. Chad has all kinds of reasons about why and how we need to say no at work. My favorite quote:

“If someone always says “yes,” they’re either incredibly talented or lying. The latter is usually the case.”

In the Marketing section, there’s a lesson called “Build Your Brand,” where Chad describes how to think about your brand (your name) and which types of projects to affiliate yourself with.

In the Maintaining section, the lesson I liked best is “Avoid Waterfall Career Planning.” As Chad says, your career is the most complex project you’ll ever have to manage. Careers are not linear. If you look at successful people, they took advantage of opportunities. (This is why I hate the interview question, “Where do you want to be in 5 years?”)

Do yourself a favor and buy this book. (Yes, your manager should do this kind of career development with you, but most managers don’t know how to do it themselves, never mind for someone else.) On the Prag site, you can get the book in hard and a variety of softcopy formats. On Amazon, just hardcopy.

If you’re looking for a job, check out my review of Andy Lester’s Land the Tech Job You Love.

5 Replies to “Book Review: Become a Passionate Programmer”

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  2. Hi,

    I haven’t finished the book yet (~40% to go), but I have to say that the tone of the book is awfully focused on the individual. The books approach could even be described as selfish. This is important for one’s career but you are rarely in a situation where you don’t affect other people or rely on other peoples doings. Thus it would be good to have a chapter about co-operation, how you can achieve more in a group than by yourself (If there is such a chapter, then my rant is of course obsolete).

    Especially in an agile environment it is destructive to focus solely on the individual and individual gains. Thus, some advises in this book are suspicious and should be taken with a grain of salt.

  3. Johanna, thanks so much for reading and reviewing my book!

    Jussi, your perspective is really interesting to me. I don’t think of my own approach as being selfish, though I see that without explicitly pointing out collaboration it could be viewed that way. I do feel, however, that there are strong points in the book which emphasize your contribution as part of the organization for which you work.

    I’m going to think about your point for a future edition. Thanks and I hope you enjoy the last 40% 🙂

  4. Hi Chad,

    still ~30% to go and I have to say that I like the book. Especially the chapters where you have good tips how to make boring work interesting and yourself invested in the conveyor belt work. This book is good if you want to get insights how to make your own work more valuable to the company you work for and for yourself too! Programmers are craftsmen/women and they should be more proud of their work (dare I say art).

    Economics are brutal nowadays so I understand the selfish point of staying employed. Without a job life is a tad bit harder.

    My point is that especially in agile environments you excel when your team excels. Also, sharing the responsibility between team members avoids the culture of blame, which is good even from a selfish point of view. The team takes the hit if things go awry 🙂

    A team is a good place to find a mentor too! Many of your tips may be easier to achieve in an agile environment.

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