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Your Textbooks Might Be Outdated

bootcode profile image Robin Palotai Originally published at treetide.com ・2 min read

Originally appeared as part of Getting the Max out from Education on treetide.com.

As Paul Graham puts it in his excellent high-school graduation speech, even college textbooks are bad.

When you get to college, you'll find that (with a few stellar exceptions) the textbooks are not written by the leading scholars in the field they describe. Writing college textbooks is unpleasant work, done mostly by people who need the money.

Here's my take on how to get the most out of your education by finding the best material. We'll take the Operating Systems class as our scapegoat:

Don't assume your textbooks or curriculum is of the best quality.

What textbooks do people advise on forums? A search on reddit can be insightful. Ask around in your private student group as well!

What do other institutions teach? Google "operating systems cs inurl:edu$".

Try to get hold of a heavy book.

Books take effort to write, and are hard to update. These makes it likely that the content went through proper editing and lays out time-tested foundations. Amazon seems to have a nice selection here.

Once you have the book, don't hold back. Pop it open at interesting chapters, use the highlighter, scribble your questions and ideas all over the margins!

(If you like these tips, subscribe to TreeTide articles)

Complement solid material with a peek into research.

Your class materials are likely behind state of the art. Look around for survey papers on Google Scholar or Arxiv.org.

For the Operating Systems class I would search for "Operating Systems Survey". Even a peek at the results indicates an emerging trend of embedded/IoT OS research, which might be useful insight. It's ok if you don't understand most of a paper, but you will draw inspiration and see contemporary problems.

(Image credits: Tom Murphy VII / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0)

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Robin Palotai


Developer, Ex-TL at Google. I teach how to be an effective SWE.


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Huh, interesting to think about :)

In college I definitely recognized that some of the textbooks were already out of date (even though they keep coming up with new revisions every year!) And yes, OS was one of them 😃


Yes, in retrospect it would have just taken a small reaching out for advanced material. But it was so easy to forgo that amidst the turbulence of life.

OS is easy to pick on, since it's unsettling how interesting could that class be made. But other subjects could be improved as well.

Somehow this makes me remember one more advice: Seek cross-class connections! If you learn something from probability theory, see how could it apply to say embedded systems. Try to make non-obvious connections.