As software engineers, we can contribute to the community in so many different ways: create software eliminating food waste, develop or contribute to open-source projects, or help to educate the next generation of IT specialists.
Influencing a new generation of software engineers is my favorite kind of community service because it scales so well — more first-class programmers mean solving more real-world problems with the software. So, I created two courses for Java developers for Packt publishing: “Java Concurrency and Multithreading in Practice” and “Java SE New Features: Covers Versions 9, 10, 11, and 12.” I was also fortunate to help Manning Publications to create better books and courses by providing my technical expertise — by being a proposal reviewer, full-book reviewer, and live project implementer. I am sharing my experience with Manning here, so hopefully, more people will become technical reviewers. 😉
What is Manning?
Manning is an independent publisher of computer books and video courses for software developers, engineers, architects, system administrators, managers and all who are professionally involved with the computer business.
Manning is not the only one — other IT book publishers have similar programs.
Technical manuscript review is just like code review, but for a book. A review includes all technical aspects of the book:
- What does the book cover? The reviewers are encouraged to propose to add more topics or remove what they think is not relevant or important.
- Is the book interesting?
- Are the code examples relevant and accurate?
- Are provided figures helpful and self-explanatory?
- Very technical questions specific to each chapter
- Everything else 😄… with one exception — the technical reviewer does NOT provide feedback on the grammar and writing style; it’s the editor's job.
I really like that many publishers welcome reviews from people with any level of technical knowledge, from experts to amateurs.
My experience of reviewing a book as an expert was with “The Java Module System.“ The Module System is probably one of the most long-awaited and controversial features in Java. The reason — it lacks backward compatibility. To make matters worse, it’s hard to migrate existing projects to the modules! At the same time, sticking to the old version would mean depriving your project of all other cool stuff coming in newer versions. Migrating to a newer version may look time-consuming at first glance, but it will save a lot of time in the long run. This is why I decided to contribute a significant amount of my time as a manuscript reviewer for this book. I also created this cheat sheet on Java Module System.
Publishers are also interested in the opinion of novices. When I was offered to review “Building Ethereum ĐApps,” I did have some knowledge of the blockchain technologies — completed several Coursera and EDx courses — but it was way far from being an expert. Manning knew that my experience in this area was minimal, but they valued this opinion anyway — because feedback from novices makes books more accessible to junior developers.
Partial book review
The full book review is very time-consuming; I estimate that it took about 40–60 hours for each review. It’s a lot of time, and sometimes we simply don’t have this time. Fortunately, sometimes Manning allows partial book review, which takes just a few hours.
For example, I reviewed only the first six chapters of “Seriously Good Software,” not all the nine chapters.
I’ve got an explanation from Aleks Dragosavljević from Manning that what looked to me like “full book review” and “partial book review” actually represent different stages in the book production process:
For all manuscripts, we organize at least three reviews during the development phase. We call them 1P, 2P, and 3P reviews. The first review (1P) includes the first 1/3 of the manuscript, the second (2P) includes 2/3 of the manuscript (the revised chapters from the 1P review and a couple of new chapters, and the 3P review includes the full manuscript (revised chapters from 1P and 2P reviews and a remaining new chapters).
It makes a lot of sense, and thanks to the Manning team I now understand the entire production process much better!
All reviewers regardless of the kind of review (1P, 2P, or 3P) are listed in the acknowledgment section.
Manuscripts are not the only thing that needs to be reviewed; book proposals need feedback too!
A book proposal is just like a business plan for a book — it explains what the book is about, including the table of contents, the target audience, and analyses the competitors and why the author is the right person to write about it.
The prospective authors send their book proposals to the publishers. The publisher decides if they want to publish the book — they check that the topic is relevant for the audience and the proposed book covers all important points. Proposal reviewers provide data to the publishers to make the informed decision.
Proposal reviews are my favorite type of review because they allow me to share my knowledge's breadth — from statistics to unit testing. I majored in CS and Maths but haven’t used statistics for a while, so it was a good way to refresh my knowledge.
Live project implementer
Live projects are a new kind of educational resource available from Manning. They are focused on hands-on learning — it’s basically a set of exercises to hone one particular topic. A live project implementer follows the steps as a learner would do. At the end of each section, the reviewer provides feedback on the exercises' quality, the solutions, and the topics covered. Usually, it’s done section by section as soon as the author creates the content to add improvements in the next iteration. For example, I reviewed the four-project series “Develop Secure Java Applications to Prevent Website Attacks,” and it took about 5–6 hours weekly for four weeks.
Live project beta testers and mentors
I personally haven’t done it (yet 😃), but the description from the Manning reviews newsletter looks interesting:
Are you interested in beta testing liveProject, a brand-new product? We’d love to offer you the chance to test one as well as an opportunity to become a liveProject mentor!
liveProjects will be priced at up to $60. This is your chance to take one for free!
How much time does it take?
Any! It really depends on the type of review: it can be from 1–2 hours for proposal review to 15–20 hours for live project implementer to 40–60 hours for a full book review. So, everybody can find time depending on the demands of work and the season in life.
What level of knowledge?
Any! Experts will review from the point of view of technical accuracy and ensure that nothing important is missing. Novice’s opinion matters because it will make the book accessible for more people.
How to become a reviewer?
I shared my experience with Manning, and I guess all other publishers do the same. To become a Manning reviewer, fill out a form here, and Manning will contact you when they are interested.
Should you be a technical reviewer?
Just like other kinds of volunteering, this kind of work is typically not paid — reviewers get a free digital copy of the material being reviewed though and another e-book of choice. So, do I recommend other people to become technical reviewers? Yes, yes, and yes!
I find providing technical reviews to be deeply satisfying work:
- It allows you to contribute to the community
- even if you have very little time
- while expanding and deepening your own knowledge!
It’s a win-win-win!