Thursday, 12 July 2012

Amazon Kindle: One of the Best Tools in a Technical Pro's Arsenal

As any professional knows, you can't get by in technology without constantly keeping your skills up to date with emergent technologies. Of the various ways to do this, one of the best is to choose some detailed technical books in those fields that are presently of interest. Preferably ones that have been written by people that are actual hands-on developers themselves, rather than those by authors that merely have an academic interest in the subject under discussion. Wrox Press does an excellent line of books called Programmer to Programmer, which are very useful in this regard.

Once you've absorbed the material, and have used the technologies concerned on a few live projects, these books become an excellent source of reference material, which you can refer back to time and time again. If you're anything like me, you'll have a bookshelf at home that looks something like this:

RP's old technical library

The only downside to Wrox books (and any other type of reference manual) is their weight. It's typically handy to have those books that are relevant to the discrete areas you're working in at a given time to hand as you tackle a real project. Given that even a few books combined generally weigh around 2-3kg, that can be a real strain on your back, especially if you're already carrying a laptop and other bits and pieces around too. 

Around about two years ago, I bought an Amazon Kindle, for the express purpose of carrying around these tomes without dislocating my spine. The passive e-ink display of the basic Kindle device is great for reading in bright sunlight:

Physical Kindle Device

And there's a handy little management tool on the Amazon website that allows you to keep your books safe and available at all times, wherever you may be:

Amazon's "Manage Your Kindle" tool
(View full size here)

The battery on a physical Kindle device lasts for a very long time (at least a month of continual use between charges), and the device itself has room for loads and loads of books. There's also a free PC-for-Kindle application that allows you to view the e-books you've purchased on any PC. And for Android users, there's a nifty free Kindle-for-Android app that allows you to view your books on your tablet:

Kindle for Android tablet, Library View
 or on your Android phone:

Kindle for Android phone
These latter applications are particularly useful if a book you happen to be using utilises colour to convey meaning:

Colour-Coded Keywords
Coloured Graphics
                    (View full size)                                                  (View full size)

However, the best thing about using Kindle as your technical library, which all technical departments should take heed of, is that you need only buy each book once. If you've got a department full of 20 developers (within which there will undoubtedly be a huge overlap of skillsets), it makes sense to buy one copy of each book, and allow each developer access to that library of virtual books via their own PC. An organisation that wants to make effective use of technology will also probably find it profitable to fork out for a few Tablets and physical Kindle devices for taking into meetings. In terms of increased profitability for individual developers, they'll pay for themselves in no time.