Few fields of study expect the level of reading that Information Technology expects. Reading is a part of everyday life in IT and the more you read the better position you will be in when interviewing. The use of paper based books and magazines is obviously diminishing and online resources are beginning to take their place which is somewhat changing the way that we view information but by and large IT reading remains roughly the same regardless of its form.
Magazines remain a strong resource and are a great source for maintaining a solid baseline in the industry. Trade publications are often available for free to career professionals once you are a year or two into the field but before then they are generally available online either in whole or in part. There are many publications available and becoming buried under a mountain of print media can be detrimental as well so picking and choosing quality publications is important.
Almost every IT professional should real a few basics, I believe, including InfoWorld and eWeek. These are very general publications dealing with a large cross section of the industry touching on software development, enterprise management, hardware, software, etc. They include trends, hot topics, pundits, etc. and have a lot of value for enterprising young hopefuls as well as seasoned industry veterans. I have read both of these weekly rags for many years and will continue to do so. I also subscribe to many of their RSS feeds online for more immediate news.
As many, if not most, early career IT professionals or pre-career ITPs will spend a large portion of their early career working in the Windows desktop work I highly recommend Windows IT Pro and TechNet magazines which are very practical and technically oriented. Magazines like this will show you real world skills that other Windows professionals are interested in learning and helps to keep you in touch with the industry in a more specific way.
Don’t get buried by magazines. At some point you will start “magazine thrashing” and it will no longer be useful to you. There are magazine targeted at almost any specific IT technology. Finding magazine that are designed around what you need to know and are useful and factual will be very beneficial to you.
Books serve a different role. Instead of keeping you up to date on the latest trends and news books will help you build a strong technological theory foundation. Books come out more slowly than other forms of media and are generally designed to sit on shelves for a long time and remain mostly relevant. This means that the focus of the books will be vastly different from most other things. Rapidly the Internet seems to be taking over the “how-to” market that books used to fill. This would include detailed guides to technologies. For example when I first learned about Windows NT server I did so by buying several large books on the technology and read them. To learn the same technology today I might buy a single book that covers the basics and the “Microsoft way” on certain things but would learn specific tasks by doing online research. This has lowered the cost of getting into IT somewhat over the last few years.
More so an investment in books will be more valuable if the books are less technology oriented and more theoretical. In this way books are more similar to collegiate work – laying a foundation but not providing particulars – whereas magazines and the Internet remain better for the day to day practical applications. This is not always so clear cut and many IT professionals continue to use technology related books because a well researched book from a respected publisher and author can help to provide a good understanding of many aspects of a technology, provide background and history and more that is often lacking from a practical, hands-on Internet how-to or guide. Using a balanced variety of resources is the best approach.
As an IT professional reading will always be a core activity whether it is books, periodicals or Internet based. The field is demanding and a large amount of reading is important for maintaining as well as for growth. Additionally I have found it to be important to always be in the process of reading a good book and always keep up with at least two magazines. It is not uncommon in interviews to be asked what you are currently reading and you want to be prepared to talk about the current resources that you are using in your personal growth.