On Pragmatic Thinking and Learning (and Cats)

pragmatic catI just finished reading “Pragmatic Thinking and Learning” by Andy Hunt, one of the “Pragmatic Programmers”.

Besides explaining how our brain works and how to acquire knowledge effectively, he tells many interesting stories and gives pragmatic tips that are invaluable for any knowledge worker.

Most likely this book is going to make it on my yet-to-be-published top 10 of books that radically influenced my professional life. Some positions are already allocated. For instance, number one is Steve McConnell’s “Code Complete” because it turned me from a hobbyist programmer into a professional software developer (I hope). Next comes “Peopleware” by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister, because it taught me that software development is all about people and only remotely about tools or methodologies. The third place goes to “The Pragmatic Programmer” (here they go again!) for tripling the level of passion I have for programming.

So what is so special about those pragmatic guys?

I guess it is the way they entertain their audience with immediately usable advice — they are very good presenters. I first met them in 2000 at a conference about Java and object-oriented programming (JAOO) in Denmark.
They gave one of the best (correction: the best) presentation I have attended so far — full of wit, full of fun. Nobody knew them at the time (I vividly recall when at the end of the presentation somebody asked “Who are you guys, anyway?”). Regretfully, I missed the opportunity to buy their then brand-new book “The Pragmatic Programmer” and have them sign it on the spot (I learned from my mistake and had Bjarne Stroustrup sign my copy of “The Design and Evolution of C++” the next day).

Not all of what they write or say is truly novel. Frequently, they reuse material and wisdom from others (a very pragmatic habit, indeed) but they always present it in a context that makes me think “Wow!”. Take, for instance, this quote from Mark Twain at the beginning of chapter 7 “Gain Experience” in “Pragmatic Thinking and Learning”:

“We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it and stop there; lest we be like the cat that sits on a hot stove-lid; he will never sit on a hot stove-lid again—and that is well; but also he will never sit on a cold one anymore.”

Very profound, isn’t it?

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