Book Reviews

Pragmatic Thinking and Learning: Refactor Your Wetware by Andy Hunt

ISBN-13: 978-1934356050
Publisher: Pragmatic Bookshelf
Pages: 279

Andy Hunt's new book fills an important gap. While much of the people-oriented work in the software industry targets better and more effective ways to work, I've always lacked the focus on what really matters: our skills. At the end, the ability to constantly learn and evolve is what really makes a difference. It's not just about new languages and tools; we have to learn different problem domains, understand the challenges they possess, and address them with creative solutions. Drawing on research in cognitive research and learning theory, Andy explains how we can learn more effectively and boost our creativity.

What attracts me most in this book is the thought that went into it. As Andy writes, everything is interconnected . That's true in the real world, software, and in our brains. And the organization of the book ensures that we see and understand the topics in a larger context. Andy adopts useful metaphors that help making rather advanced subjects accessible and easy to remember. I particularly like the categorization of our mind in two modes: L-mode (linear) and R-mode (rich). The reference to the brain's hemispheres make them memorable, yet avoids the pop-science trap of left- vs. right-brain thinking. As programmers, we're culturally biased towards the analytical and rational L-mode. However, our holistic and creative R-mode is essential in effective problem solving. Thus, much of the book digs into theory and tips on how we can cultivate our R-mode usage. While the book presents several concrete techniques (like mind maps and the SQ3R reading technique), these are not the core of the book; the techniques are just tools and not solutions on their own.

The book goes further by presenting ideas and suggestions that aren't backed by research. Of course, that doesn't mean they're wrong (or right, for that matter). You have to try them in order to know. After all, we all bring our unique combinations of personality and social context. And different strategies and approaches work for different people.

Andy does a remarkable job of distilling extensive academic research into an enjoyable and engaging book. But make no mistake - change doesn't come free. You'll have to work hard to improve. If you got the motivation, Pragmatic Thinking and Learning is an excellent guide on your journey to true expertise.

Reviewed February 2009