- Series: Pragmatic Programmers
- Paperback: 252 pages
- Publisher: Pragmatic Bookshelf; 1 edition (November 7, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1934356050
- ISBN-13: 978-1934356050
- Product Dimensions: 7.5 x 0.7 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 91 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #197,696 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Pragmatic Thinking and Learning: Refactor Your Wetware (Pragmatic Programmers) 1st Edition
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From the Publisher
Where We’re Going
Every good journey begins with a map, and ours appears in the front portion of this book. Despite the linear flow of a book, these topics are entwined and interrelated, as the map shows.
After all, everything is connected to everything else. But it’s somewhat difficult to appreciate that idea with a linear read of a book. You can’t always get a sense of what’s related when faced with countless 'see also' references in the text. By presenting the map graphically, I hope you get the opportunity to see what’s related to what a little more clearly.
With that in mind, the following is roughly where we are headed, despite a few side trips, tangents, and excursions on the way.
Journey from Novice to Expert
In the first part of the book, we’ll look at why your brain works as it does, beginning with a popular model of expertise.
The Dreyfus model of skill acquisition provides a powerful way of looking at how you move beyond beginner-level performance and begin the journey to mastery of a skill. We’ll take a look at the Dreyfus model and in particular look at the keys to becoming an expert: harnessing and applying your own experience, understanding context, and harnessing intuition.
This is Your Brian
The most important tool in software development is, of course, your own brain. We’ll take a look at some of the basics of cognitive science and neuroscience as they relate to our interests as software developers, including a model of the brain that looks a lot like a dual-CPU, shared-bus design and how to do your own brain surgery of a sort.
Get in Your Right Mind
Once we have a better understanding of the brain, we will find ways to exploit underutilized facets of thinking to help encourage better creativity and problem solving, as well as harvest and process experiences more effectively.
We’ll also take a look at where intuition comes from. Intuition, the hallmark of the expert, turns out to be a tricky beast. You need it, you rely on it, but you also probably fight against using it constantly, without knowing why. You may also be actively suspicious of your own and others’ intuition, mistakenly thinking that it’s 'not scientific.'
We’ll see how to fix that and give your intuition freer reign.
Debug Your Mind
Intuition is a fantastic skill, except when it’s wrong. There are a large number of 'known bugs' in human thinking. You have built-in biases in your cognition, influences from when you’re born and from your cohort (those born about the same time as you), your innate personality, and even hardware wiring problems.
These bugs in the system often mislead you by clouding your judgment and steering you toward bad, even disastrous, decisions.
Knowing these common bugs is the first step to mitigating them.
Now that we’ve gotten a good look at how the brain works, we’ll start taking a more deliberate look at how to take advantage of the system, beginning with learning.
Note that I mean learning in the broadest sense, covering not only new technologies, programming languages, and the like, but also your learning of the dynamics of the team you’re on, the characteristics of the evolving software you’re building, and so on. In these times, we have to learn all the time.
But most of us have never been taught how, so we sort of wing it as best we can. I’ll show you some specific techniques to help improve your learning ability. We’ll look at planning techniques, mind maps, a reading technique known as SQ3R, and the cognitive importance of teaching and writing. Armed with these techniques, you can absorb new information faster and easier, gain more insights, and retain this new knowledge better.
Gaining experience is key to your learning and growth—we learn best by doing. However, just 'doing' alone is no guarantee of success; you have to learn from the doing for it to count, and it turns out that some common obstacles make this hard.
You can’t force experience either; trying too hard can be just as bad (if not worse) than slogging through the same old motions. We’ll take a look at what you need to create an efficient learning environment using feedback, fun, and failure; see the dangers of deadlines; and see how to gain experience virtually with mental grooving.
Managing your attention and focus is the next critical step in your journey. I’ll share with you some tricks, tips, and pointers to help you manage the flood of knowledge, information, and insights that you need to gain experience and learn. We live in information-rich times, and it’s easy to get so swamped under the daily demands of our jobs that we have no chance to advance our careers. Let’s try to fix that and increase your attention and focus.
We’ll take a look at how to optimize your current context, manage those pesky interruptions better, and see why interruptions are such cognitive train wrecks. We’ll look at why you need to defocus in order to focus better in the mental marinade and manage your knowledge in a more deliberate manner.
Finally, we’ll take a quick look at why change is harder than it looks, and I’ll offer suggestions for what you can do tomorrow morning to get started.
I’ll share what I think lies beyond expertise and how to get there.
""I've recommended it to anyone who will stand still long enough to listen to me. I was familiar with some of the ideas and techniques from my various readings on the science of learning, but its invaluable to have them gathered in one concise book, especially one geared towards developers.""--Dr. Paul V. Gestwicki, Professor & Director of Undergraduate Programs, Ball State University
""I've always been looking for something to help me improve my learning skills, but i've never found anything as effective as this book.""--Oscar Del Ben, Software Developer
""Absolutely terrific! I'm only beginning the 3rd chapter and I've already found the book VERY, VERY useful. It makes me look at what I am doing and how I do it in a different light.""--Carol Saah, Java Software Developer
About the Author
Top customer reviews
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The idea of such a book is great, somebody should have done it. The execution though is the one that is bad. The book is mostly focused around small number of defining concepts, which are supposed to explain and substantiate all the facts about the way brain works and the suggestions of how to become more efficient in whatever you do. These concepts are the L-mode and R-mode of the brain, the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition, and the metaphoric comparison of a brain with a two-CPU computer.
Unfortunately, L/R-mode theory is now considered wrong and dated (the theory is more than 20 years old -- a lot has happened in neuroscience since then), and basing and substantiation suggestions on it is questionable. Even though the suggestions themselves are mostly reasonable and useful (in case you have not come up with them on your own yet), the constant L/R-mode preaching makes an impression of somebody selling you snake oil. The L/R-mode explanations make up a bulk of the book, sound really fishy, and get annoying pretty quickly.
Dreyfus model, although somewhat useful in some fields, not too useful in the context of research work and science (and any non-trivial software engineering), where things are a tad more complicated [note: this is my personal opinion, don't take my word on it and read about it elsewhere if you want]. That wouldn't be a problem, if Dreyfus model wasn't used throughout the book to explain things.
Comparing a brain with a two-CPU computer is just blatantly wrong, the way the brain works is not even in vicinity of how CPUs (and the related wiring) work -- just read some other books and research papers on the subject. Thus using the metaphor abundantly in a book which tries to give an impression of a book where the facts are checked and substantiated is questionable.
Of course, that's not all. I found many places in the text where something was stated (which wasn't obviously true or false), but as if it was following from some other facts. If you're not careful enough when reading, you are likely to learn something that isn't.
Less important things which I didn't like: the narration and the design/formatting/images and text relevance. From the start the author notes that this book is not necessarily intended for programmers, however the text is full of irrelevant programming allusions which would bore any non-programmer to death, without any chance of getting any useful meaning from the allusion. Heck, I'm a programmer and I was bored and struck with superfluity of these examples. Oh, and don't forget about smileys in the text. Don't get me wrong, I'm not narrow-minded, however I still believe that well-edited text in a book on a serious topic could do without smileys and still be able to communicate jocular mood if there's need for it. The book is full of irrelevant examples and images (I love images, provided they are useful!), take the "unix wizard" image as an example. There's even an awful attempt at infographics (p.229, fig.8.4, "Relative IQ point loss") which takes almost half a page and is really a bad example of using a bar chart.
Another annoying thing is that another book by the same author - "Pragmatic Programmer" - is praised persistently throughout the text. Although it's not a bad book, there should be some restraint in self-advertising.
To be fair, there are some good suggestions and practices. It's rather unfortunate that they get diluted by a mush of bad science and lacking narration.
Verdict: if you want to spend your time reading a good book on the topic, go read something else, for example, Medina's Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School, Weinberg's Becoming a Technical Leader: An Organic Problem-Solving Approach, or DeMarco's Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams (Second Edition).
Journey from Novice to Expert: Novices vs. Experts; The Five Dreyfus Model Stages; Dreyfus at Work - Herding Racehorses and Racing Sheep; Using the Dreyfus Model Effectively; Beware the Tool Trap; Consider the Context, Again; Day-to-Day Dreyfus
This Is Your Brain: Your Dual-CPU Modes; Capture Insight 24x7; Linear and Rich Characteristics; Rise of the R-mode; R-mode Sees Forest, L-mode Sees Trees; DIY Brain Surgery and Neuroplasticity; How Do You Get There?
Get in Your Right Mind: Turn Up the Sensory Input; Draw on the Right Side; Engage an R-mode to L-mode Flow; Harvest R-mode Cues; Harvesting Patterns; Get It Right
Debug Your Mind: Meet Your Cognitive Biases; Recognize Your Generational Affinity; Codifying Your Personality Tendencies; Exposing Hardware Bugs; Now I Don't Know What to Think
Learn Deliberatively: What Learning Is... and Isn't; Target SMART Objectives; Create a Pragmatic Investment Plan; Use Your Primary Learning Mode; Work Together, Study Together; Used Enhanced Learning Techniques; Read Deliberately with SQ3R; Visualize Insight with Mind Maps; Harness the Real Power of Documenting; Learn by Teaching; Take It to the Streets
Gain Experience: Play in Order to Learn; Leverage Existing Knowledge; Embed Failing in Practice; Learn About the Inner Game; Pressure Kills Cognition; Imagination Overrides Senses; Learn It like an Expert
Manage Focus: Increase Focus and Attention; Defocus to Focus; Manage Your Knowledge; Optimize Your Current Context; Manage Interruptions Deliberately; Keep a Big Enough Context; How to Stay Sharp
Beyond Expertise: Effective Change; What to Do Tomorrow Morning; Beyond Expertise
Photo Credits; Bibliography; Index
Hunt starts with something called the Dreyfus model, which is a way to look at how people learn and acquire new skills. You start as a Novice, someone who has little to no experience. You can follow a "recipe" to get a result, but you don't know the reasons behind much of what is being done. You're just accomplishing a task. Next comes Advanced Beginner. You can break out of the step-by-step mode a bit, but troubleshooting is still a major obstacle. Think of it as having no "big picture" of the overall subject. Stage 3 is Competent. You can start to apply your knowledge to problems you haven't encountered before, and you can figure out the context behind what you're facing. This is where the largest group of people end up. Stage 4 is Proficient, which means you need the details AND the overall picture. You can learn from the mistakes of others, and anticipate what may go wrong down the road. At the final stage, you have the Expert. These people are the ones others seek out for answers. They can "feel" whether an answer or solution will work or not, although they might not be able to tell you how they got to that point. These are the people who write books like this...
This made a lot of sense to me, and helps as I start to learn a new set of technical skills at my place of employment. It's hard to go from being proficient in one area to stepping clear back to novice again. But it's ok, and everyone has to start there. That gives me a level of comfort knowing that my confusion is normal, and is to be expected...
Throughout the rest of the book, Hunt covers various areas of the mind, how it works (or doesn't), and how it can be manipulated to be more efficient. For instance, the R-mode/L-mode discussion covers how your right and left sides of the brain process information differently. It also explains how you can inadvertently "shut down" the right side by being too analytical about something. The simple act of walking away from the problem and thinking about nothing in particular can be enough to let the right side of the brain gain access to the forefront of your attention. And quite often, the answer appears almost immediately. These chapters are heavy on practical tips and "try the following" advice, so it's not merely an exercise in acquiring knowledge. Even a handful of these ideas, properly implemented, can boost your ability to learn and perform. In my case, they already have started paying off.
The "drawback" to books like this is that everyone has a different idea about how things actually happen in the brain. Others might read this and feel that their ideas and mental frameworks are more accurate. But for the vast majority of us, we don't even stop to consider if there even *is* a framework in action. Refactoring Your Wetware is an excellent read, and will motivate you to start "thinking about thinking".
Unfortunately, Edwards' theory is not science, it's pseudoscience.
Edwards' work draws on old research, the newest being 1985, which is very old when you consider how much research in neuroscience there has been in the last 2 decades. Jessy Dorn has published an article on BrainConnection that goes through the problems with Edwards' L-Mode vs R-Mode theory.
Pragmatic Thinking presents Edward's theory as science, which it clearly is not. It's one thing to say that you subscribe to a debatable theory, but it's quite another thing to just present it as being scientifically based, when it's not. [...]. The [...] then builds on this [...], which is what gets the downgrades from me. A very nasty side effect, though is that this is a very popular [...] and now a bunch of people are going to repeat this entire "L-Mode/R-Mode" [...] and propagate the myth even further. Do a web search and you'll see that it's already happened.
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