“Get Over Yourself” is advice I’d give to anyone trying to get into technical writing, it’s the technology, it isn’t you.
It isn’t like I’m against tone and color in writing. I enjoy Jim Elliott and Brett McLaughlin, and I learn a lot from both of them. But, they are original, they earn it. I like Scott Oaks style, personable, but not over-friendly - Java Threads was one of the best books I’ve read. What I’m getting sick of is technical writing riddled with too many jokes, asides, stories about extreme sports. I don’t like reading books where every chapter starts out with a story about hiking, or a Daily WTF story about some horrible mythical corporation full of complete idiots (I’ve worked there, I’ve written those chapters).
As an industry, I think we’re too focused on personality these days. There’s a class of conference rock stars that runs around and talks trends, and I think some of this has leaked over into the way we write technical books. Everybody writing a book these days wants to become “that guy with that blog that I saw at that conference”. So in the tradition of Charles Nutter, I’m going to ask the question: Can you effective be one of those travellng conference rock stars? Write a series of well written books? And, be a formidable coder on several core open source projects at the same time? Probably not. So, let’s stop building up the “Coder” as “Superman” idea.
These days, I’m ready for technical books with a little less personality and a lot more substance. Please don’t get me wrong, there are certain authors I like personality from, I’ve already listed a few whom I read, but whenever I come along a new technical book these days I’m looking for technical content, not a new best friend. Antisocial? Yeah. Totally, I’m the guy at Starbucks that doesn’t appreciate the small-talking Barista. Alone? No, I think anyone heads-down at work, reading a book about something like Ant, wants a concise, easy-to-read reference that keeps the chitchat to a minimum.
I’m tired of your funny technical stories and your metaphors: please, just the facts. OK, wait, calm down. I’ll read and enjoy the witty stories, as long as the ratio of hard technical content to witty stories is greater than 10:1.
It’s a little harsh, sure. But, I don’t think I’m alone in this idea. I was just talking to someone who bought a new book on Ruby the other day. He told me that while it was informative, he found it difficult to scan. Difficult to pick out the one or two sentences he needed to read in 5 minutes. I can’t say I haven’t had that happen to me lately….. I’m turning down the color commentary dial at least for the next few books.
PS: It is also a message I’d give to the subjects of this photo in a recent Wired article. Vamping coder rock stars. I’m sure the persons pictured in this article had no control over the Wired photographer, but reading this makes me want to write more Java. Honest, a picture like that makes me want to attend less conferences, write more books, and get heads down into some coding.
Growing tired of the rock stars in programming that hire professional photographers to bring dramatic lights to the studio so they can looked seductively into the camera for some Ruby on Rails blog they are hosting (no DHH I’m not talking about you). I think we’re straying from technology and getting too much into personality. (Ironic, where’s the technology in this post.)
(For the record, this is about no one in particular. Matt, this isn’t about you. Raible is someone I read, listen to and I follow his recommendations frequently. Charles Nutter, also not about you. If I were president, Charles Oliver Nutter would be in my cabinet as the first Secretary of Dynamic Languages. This is about everyone. And, before I make DHH curse at me, this isn’t about you, I’m sure you find that photo as ridiculous as we all do. Hell, people, this is about me.)