If there is only one book you are ever going to buy …

A few years back I was put in charge of a $1M+ project with a team that at it’s peak was 12 developers spread across three sites. A lot of this team were quite junior and had a minimum amount of development experience. The work that we were doing was a ground up rewrite of an existing system that our customer could no longer maintain.

One of our main goals was to breathe some maintainability into the code base, which meant that we needed to have a consistent output across the whole team. A week or so in, what really became evident that the junior team members had very little knowledge about good code structure, code layout or commenting and they used very poor design techniques.

I gave one of the team members, who seemed to really be struggling at producing a quality output, the following piece of advice. “Go and buy a copy of Steve McConnell’s Code Complete, and read it cover to cover. If you are only going to buy one book in your entire career this is the one to buy.”

Code complete has been updated since then and is now in it’s second edition. It covers a lot of the fundamentals, and hygiene factors that are really important, which, most new developers just don’t seem to understand, or think are important.

Two years after I dispensed that initial advice, I received a phone call from the developer, thanking me for that advice and he told me that it was the single most lucrative investment he had ever made, and he was now earning $10k more, all of which he attributed to applying the things he learnt from Code Complete.

It’s funny though how life repeats itself. 6nly last week I found myself dispensing some advice, to a junior developer, and it went along the lines of: “Go and buy a copy of Steve McConnell’s Code Complete, and read it cover to cover. If you are only going to buy one book in your entire career this is the one to buy.” I wonder if he is going to make the same investment.

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