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Ask HN: I have $2k for books, training and confs. What should I spend it on?
38 points by fandawg195 on Feb 13, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 54 comments

I've been given a $2K budget from my employer to spend on training, books and/or conferences. I currently do Web Development (mostly front-end) and was looking for suggestions on what to spend it on.

My long-term goal is to work for Microsoft or Google and wanted to learn more about the fundamentals of algorithms and data structures. But I wouldn't mind to learn more about whats coming around the corner in the world of front-end development since things are changing and advancing so fast.

Thanks in advance!

There is only so much you can spend on books, I would suggest you register for an Algorithms/Data Structures course at a decent local university.

It could be the Sophomore level Data structures + Basic Algo course or a senior level Algorithms, wherever your comfort level is. Since you mostly do front-end development, this could bring serious depth in your computing skills.

For most CS programs, the data structures and basic algorithms course (typically at sophomore level) forms the backbone for most of the curriculum. If you didn't go through a CS program, this is the most important component that you might miss on.

If the goal is Google or Microsoft, then this is the correct answer. A solid foundation in algorithms and data structures is a strict necessity when applying to those places as a developer.

Analysis of algorithms can be a bit intense, and also hard to trudge through as it seemingly has little direct relevance to coding. I found it's better to be in a classroom of people you can work with together to get through it.

It's very much worth it though for the intuition you will take away from it.

For algorithms there is this course in coursera. It already started but it is still open for registrations. Its from Stanford Professor Tim Roughgarden. Its also free.


Conferences are expensive. I'd go with books, and local conferences that are cheap and don't cost a lot of money in terms of hotels/airfare/etc...

Another way of looking at stuff changing really fast: wait until it settles down some until you jump on board, or you risk wasting your time. I remember in the 90ies when CORBA was going to be the "next big thing". Glad I didn't spend time learning that...

i agree, you hear a lot of buzzwords thrown around these days and then a few months later its fizzled down.

I've started taking a couple of Coursera specialization tracts:

Data Science - Johns Hopkins https://www.coursera.org/specialization/jhudatascience/1

Data Mining - UIUC (edit: was Johns Hopkins - bad copy/paste) https://www.coursera.org/specialization/datamining/20

There are more specializations that you can get here: https://www.coursera.org/specializations

It's kind of a layer on top of the free courses. I've been pleased so far. They'll also look nice in the education section of your resume, if you care about that.

Will they actually? Are employers starting to value Coursera courses as valuable educational experience?

Not sure about the individual courses, but I've seen the certified tracts mentioned in job descriptions, most recently in some data science positions.

The Data Mining one is from UIUC.

You're correct. Bad copy/paste on my part.

If you want to work at those companies, your time is better spent with something like Cracking the Coding Interview and reviewing it on the weekend. If you actually go through the entire book, you'd stand a pretty good chance at doing really well on all of your interviews as far as stuff you don't use on the job frequently questions go.

This former googler who's interviewed a lot agrees with me: "For instance, if you read Cracking the Coding Interview and were diligent about it (i.e., actually worked through the problems and practiced at them), you'd stand a good chance of doing really well during Google's interview process." http://piaw.blogspot.com/2014/10/gaming-coding-interview.htm...

If you have never studied any of these topics, keeping this book in mind as you study for your algorithms course will be definitely helpful for your grade and your future interviews!

I would buy and look into the following books:

# HTTP: The Definitive Guide - O'Reilly Media

# Algorithms by Sedgewick

# Introduction to Algorithms by Cormen.

Check out some Machine Learning books:

# Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning

# Computer Networks (5th Edition)

I would look at the following book if you wanted more Q&A and interview questions:

# Cracking the Coding Interview: 150 Programming Questions ...

Tutorial memberships:

# I would buy a Tuts+ account, they have been very slow in releasing new content (too bad), however they have lots of great Web Development stuff.

I would read some other non-technical books:

# Hackers & Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age by Paul Graham

# The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz

# The Innovator's Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change The Way You Do Business by Clayton M. Christenen,

# Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

# How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

If you wanted to understand some Cloud stuff, look into the Whitepapers from Amazon Web Services:

# https://aws.amazon.com/whitepapers/

> # The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz

this is an excellent book! also i would have to recommend How Google Works. its fairly new.

>What should I spend it on?

Leverage your training budget to show your personal goals are aligned with your employers overall business goals.

It might be instructive to start surveying different company stake-holders, from their perspective what works well or what needs improvement? What are their challenges? That feedback is Gold.

Those assorted needs & wants might inform the sort of training you seek. For example, the marketing department might want next generation Big Data Analytics & SEO. While, the operations group might be concerned about Security & Fraud issues.

Imagine if you could show how your training interests are aligned with company priorities-- that might earn a bigger budget allocation. And makes you even more valuable to company.

As everyone has already said, conferences are expensive. However if you can find one that you maybe don't have to pay travel / lodging for (crash at a friends place, driveable distance, etc..) I say go for it. They can be extremely informational. Especially if you like front-end technologies.

As a front-end developer, knowing what's "around the corner" is helpful, but I wouldn't invest a lot of time in it. Browser support for many "around the corner" technologies and practices is so far off it's not (yet) worth the time investment.

So, conference if you can without blowing your whole budget, then online courses / books.

I can recommend "Programming Pearls":


It hasn't a lot of algorithms per se, but it has a lot of examples of how a different view on a problem can lead to an easier/more performant solution. It also does a good job at explaining tradeoffs. I think it's great for people that have had some basic introduction already.

[Ref link if anyone feels like it: http://amzn.to/1CnQUQ7]

If you want to work for Microsoft or Google, while you likely can't get away with using your employers's $2K, the best books to read are Cracking the Coding Interview and Elements of Programming Interviews. Both books have very solid algorithm questions which you can use to go research the various algorithms and learn them. Although, I'd wait for Elements of Programming Interviews v2 which will include Java samples, as opposed to C++, but that's just me.

McDowell's The Google Resume also has some useful tidbits in it.

One more vote for http://www.safaribooksonline.com and http://www.pluralsight.com If you do check out pluralsight, take a look at http://www.lynda.com. It's also a video learning site but also allows you to download a project to work on along with the course you're taking.

totally agree pluralsight is great, they've been on a spending spree and bought my two favourite sites:

codeschool.com and peepcode.com

That said, why don't you do a Nanodegree from Udacity? https://www.udacity.com/nanodegree

The founder is a Googler and they partner with allot of great companies for their courses.

Also great is https://frontendmasters.com/ for anything JavaScript

http://safaribooksonline.com It's basically Netflix for programming books.

I would find out the medium term goals of the organization, and find all the resources I would need to accomplish some of them - people (on LinkedIn, Meetup.com), courses (Udacity Nanodegree, Coursera Specialization, Thinkful, etc), books (Such as Intro to Algorithms, etc).

And then draft a comprehensive plan to make this happen. If you do this, then you will become truly irreplaceable for your organization.

If you only have $2,000, you'll get a better bang for your buck with books and online courses than traveling to a conference--especially in an expensive city (which is where tech conferences tend to be). I went to KDD[1] last year, and racked up a bit over $3500 in expenses without even trying.

[1]: http://www.kdd.org/kdd2014/

I work at Pluralsight and I'd highly suggest giving us a try. We have over 3,500 courses in our online training library. Check out our 10-day free trial here: https://www.pluralsight.com/a/subscribe/step1?isTrial=True

If you want to work at Google you should for sure learn Golang. https://www.eventbrite.com/e/go-programming-bootcamp-tour-sa...

Do you get time off to receive training?

The "drier" the subject matter the more I like to it to take place at an offsite location where that is all I will doing for several days.

Pluralsight certainly is a good resource if you are more diligent than myself at managing your own curriculum.

For your current work, I would say put your objectives, discuss it with your employer to see which ones fits better and then have a side project and learn how to do it in a new technology that you don't know. Examples will be AngularJS, EmberJS .. etc.

You should spend it on 1 or 2 good books and then take a week or two off and use the 2K to cover your unpaid time. And then focus like a sunbeam and magnifying glass night and day and absorb everything you can in that sprint!

While I agree that taking time off helps recharge and sharpen the mind, imagine how that will look to the employer:

"Look at how Joe spent the $2k we gave him for professional development: He spent $30 on books and the rest on a paid vacation."

I know how I'd spend the first $100:


I don't know about the other $1.9K.

Don't forget that you can stretch $2k a lot further on something like half.com instead of buying new books: http://product.half.ebay.com/Introduction-to-Algorithms-by-C...

Abe is generally the only place I check, besides Amazon Marketplace: http://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?an=stein+rives...

Also, don't worry too much about getting the latest edition -- for the core things, it won't have changed much.

If you do wish to purchase new books, get them from overseas. The "let's make an expensive US version and then a cheaper but identical international version, the latter being illegal to sell in the US" practice is horrible, and it is your moral obligation to circumvent it as best you can.

I'm embarrassed to admit I didn't know about half.com. That is pretty cool.

Use the money as your salary. Work for four hours, research for the other four. Learning is free but time is limited. Ask your boss for four hours a day with the $2k dwindling according to your rate.

Hah, this is almost exactly what I just posted. Yes definitely use as salary so you can focus, I would see if you could take a week or two of to focus more intensely though.

Write your own book and self-publish on Amazon. Set the price at $1990. Buy your own book with company money.

don't waste your money on conferences, they are super expensive and the best talks will land on the internet. Unless u need them for networking - but even then you can just go to free meetups.

Consider paying someone to tutor you. Consider using Air Pair for that.

I've found the Pluralsight videos to be pretty easy to follow. They have a nice interface and you get a lot of videos for the price. Taking their angular ones now at 1.5x speed.

And they just bought CodeSchool which I've been pretty pleased with. Not sure of their integration plans yet, outside of CodeSchool offering some pluralsight videos.

Pluralsight, Safari Books Online, and small local conferences.

A good way to get Safari Books Online is to join the ACM organization. You get a subset of Safari and other bookstores for around $100 a year. There maybe others with the same deal.

Yes but the subset from Safari Books Online is quite restrictive. I ended up having to get Safari separately to access some of the books I wanted...

Sure but the full version starts at $399 per year. If you only occasionally read the books that the $100 might be a better deal supplemented by buying specific books you really want.

@aluciani + @FLGMwt - i didn't know about pluralsight. i'm looking at their courses and its quite extensive. thanks!

Can confirm, pluralsight is a great resource. Lots and lots of interesting stuff.

Other than that it really depends on where you want to go and how much you already know. If you'd like to go work for Microsoft I can recommend events and books, but if you want to work for Google, people will recommend completely different stuff.

Pluralsight, Safari Books Online, and MeetUps +1

Safari online bookshelf membership?

does your local university allow non-degree seeking students to take courses?

This was my thought.

If you want a deep dive on algorithms and data structures, it would make sense to me to take a university course.

I had a friend who used to do this. He'd go through the University course catalog, find some interesting CS courses and then buy the books, show up for class, even take notes and do the homework. Said it was the best way for him to learn and get really deep into subjects which really interested him. After a while, I think he finally enrolled and tool some classes.

I was listening to a podcast where the guest goes to university courses, listens to the lectures, goes to office hours, but doesn't sign up or even pay tuition... Seems cost effective to me :)

Pluralsight - great resource

Hookers and blow.

Buy a bunch of books, scan them, and resell them. You can profit and obtain the knowledge!

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