What use are books?

About a week ago I saw a tweet from the estimable Steve Chambers about vSphere design.

Do folks think reading a book about vSphere ‘design' or ‘architecture' will make them into ‘designers' or ‘architects'? Hands up?

As with any sort of text such as this (e.g. email, facebook / twitter updates) you have to take them at face value or risk misinterpreting the writer's intent. That said, it could easily have been a rhetorical question or even a sarcastic observation but since it was on twitter I felt safe weighing in.

In hindsight my response was obtuse:

Reading a Haynes manual doesn't make someone a mechanic either.

Now I have nothing against Haynes manuals, the people who use them (I have but that's another story) or mechanics, I just want to make that clear. My point wasn't easy to convey in just 140 characters which is why I'm writing this post.

I like books and I like reading books. They can be an excellent source of knowledge. I have learned a lot from a wide variety of books and I will in the future too. However, they have their limitations. Books can impart knowledge but they can't give you experience and it is the experience that you need to call yourself a designer or architect of vSphere solutions in my opinion.

Take the Haynes manual for example. (For those that don't know what one is, it's a workshop manual for your car.) It may tell you how to replace your distributor cap or set the gaps on your car's spark plugs (I did just this 15 years ago with my first car) but I would not call myself a mechanic for having read it and used its knowledge. A mechanic may refer to a Haynes manual or something similar but they will have the experience to know when it is wrong, misleading or perhaps doesn't cover everything that they need.

Another example of a book's limitations is when it comes to cookery. A recipe book may tell you how to make a particular dish but it won't stop you burning it.

Do I think that reading a book on vSphere design makes you a solutions designer or architect? No I don't. That comes with experience.

But what of the forthcoming book entitled “VMware vSphere 4 Design” by Forbes Guthrie, Scott Lowe and Maish Saidel-Keesing? Am I suggesting that it's not worth reading? Not at all! The authors I know by reputation to be knowledgeable and well respected in the virtualisation community. They have a lot to offer between them and I will use their book to make me better at what I do.

Books are great tools but like any tool they have their limitations. That's my take on it. Now I'm heading off to Amazon to place an order…