Jake Worth

Read the Docs

Published: October 19, 2022 2 min read

When learning a new language or framework, the first thing I do is read the official documentation cover-to-cover.

Choose the latest version, or if you’re stuck with an older version, go with that.

For some tools like Go or React, this can be done in an hour or two. For others like Ruby, it’s more of a challenge, so try to focus on the standard library or official guides. Read quickly, try stuff out, jot down a few notes.

The reason I find this method effective is that, although a lot of what you read won’t totally click, you’re laying a foundation. You’re sketching the shape of the tool– what it does and does not do, what its maintainers think is important.

Later, when you’re thinking “I’ve written this React hook ten times and it’s not feeling very DRY”, your mind might shout out: “You could write a custom hook!”, a React convention you read about once. That kind of insight came from the docs, and it helps you write conventional, idiomatic code from the start.

Some people prefer to just build or try stuff, and skip the docs, and that’s fine. However you learn, keep doing that. The reason that I advocate a docs-first approach is that you can skip rebuilding standard features or implementing known anti-patterns if you are familiar with what the docs have to say.

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Blog of Jake Worth, software engineer in Maine.

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