Managing knowledge portfolio

There are few technical books which you enjoy first time you read them, remember the experience and keep coming back. One of such classic books is The Pragmatic Programmer – from journeyman to master – by David Thomas and Andrew Hunt. If you have not read it, get it, it is worth every cent. Since the book was written – ages ago, back in 2000 – it did not loose anything of its freshness and value – which one cannot say about most of technical books written earlier than 2-3 years ago. Inspired by the success of their initial creation, Dave and Andrew started the website and continued writing whole Pragmatic Programmer series of books.

Book contains 46 tips and explanations and the tip #5 deals with knowledge portfolio – one of developer’s main assets. Unfortunately it is expiring asset so you have to work hard to keep it recent and in good shape. Dave and Andy recommend using the same strategy as successful investors in finance markets:

  • invest regularly – even if small amounts, but create habit investing
  • diversify to embrace change and to widen the reach
  • manage risk – combine high-reward high-risk with low-reward low risk
  • buy low, sell high – try to identify future hits before they become popular
  • review and rebalance – what was true last year, can be different now

They also recommend few practical steps and goals how to achieve the healthy and well balanced portfolio, such as:

– learn new language every year
– read a technical book every quarter
– read nontechnical books too
– participate in local user groups
– experiment with different environments

Which got me thinking about how am doing wrt these suggestions. I guess I have no problem with “read a book” part, either technical or non-technical 🙂 – thanks to Safari I consume 1-2 technical books a month and thanks to e-books even more non-technical ones :-). What I have not done in about 3-4 years was learning a new language. I think I have not learned really new language since C# in 2002. One could argue that for Java programmer, C# is not really such a new language – in that case I have not really updated my language toolset since I started with Python back in 2000. That is terrible ! Obviously, some action is required – I am overdue at least with 4 new languages. Because it is highly impractical to tackle 4 problem at the same time, for this year I will be adding two.

But which programming languages ? Key here is the word pragmatic and the investment strategies above – more specifically, combining high and low risk, buying low and diversifying. I want to explore new territories, but stay away from esoteric and pure-research areas (e.g languages like Janus, Limbo or Concurrent Haskell :-)). After some research I picked two candidates: Ruby and Objective-C for the year 2007.

There are few reasons why exactly these two: they are both similar (with Smalltalk and functional programming/OO heritage) and opposite – one is multiplatform, interpreted, very high level, the other is (practically) single platform – OS-X language of choice, compiled and up to version 2.0 not even garbage-collector enabled. One has pretty clean and nice syntax, other is – well – simple, but quite ugly. And so on.

I have started with Ruby yesterday – found a good book on Safari and started to read and play with the code. I will get back to it when my head stops spinning – and after I get some non-trivial programs done to get some real life feeling of the language. From the book reading point of view, it is pretty amazing what I have found in few hours :-).

Btw, the version 1 of the Ruby boom by the same two authors is available online.

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