Book Review: The Imposter's Handbook

The Imposter's Handbook


Rob Conery

My Rating

star star star star star
"Quite possibly the closest you can get to a CS degree in under 500 pages"

Rob Conery is a world class imposter. A geologist who cashed in on the .com boom, Rob has enjoyed an amazing career involving a spell at Microsoft, invites to speak at the biggest tech conferences, and a notable acquisition of his developer training business.

If anyone is qualified to write a book for fellow imposters, it’s surely Rob. Could his Imposter’s Handbook be the bible for all those lacking a formal computer science education?

An Engaging Intro to CS Fundamentals

The first thing I’ll say about the Imposter’s Handbook is that it’s far from dry academic waffle. In places, Rob’s writing is immensely compelling - nowhere more so than the chapter on complexity theory.

I could feel Rob’s passion during that chapter. I was jealous of his ability to intertwine academic CS and storytelling, extolled in typical Rob Conery charisma. There is also a conference talk version of that chapter online, and it’s equally brilliant.

Contrastingly, not all chapters in the book have that magical glow. I guess Rob isn’t as passionate about all of the topics, and you can tell. But that’s natural, and those chapters are still useful, if not quite as mesmerising.

Balancing Depth & Breadth

Rob’s charisma isn’t the reason you should buy this book, though. I’m sure it won’t be to everyone’s taste anyway. The real challenge of writing this book is deciding which topics to talk about and in how much depth.

Too much detail for each topic and the book will be off-puttingly too big. Yet, not enough detail, and readers won’t gain anything useful.

There are unquestionably some standout chapters where Rob has hit the sweet spot: complexity theory, Big-O Notation, and The History of Computing, all stand out. They teach enough theory and examples to be genuinely useful without holding the reader's attention on one topic for too long.

I do, however, feel that some chapters are not quite as perfectly balanced, but this is very subjective. For example, a lot of object-oriented, gang-of-four design patterns are demonstrated. I think half, or even a quarter would have been sufficient to convey what the patterns are and how they are useful.

I was also a little surprised that there was no coverage of binary, encodings, or the basics of networks (HTTP, DNS, subnets, etc.). Apparently this is a conscious design choice, and is being addressed in a new volume which cohesively packages those topics and some others. I’m happy to give Rob the benefit of the doubt, and the new volume does genuinely sound like something I will buy.

Does it Compensate for a CS Degree?

No, that would be unrealistic. But, it is in with a genuine claim of being the closest you can get in under 500 pages.

If you’re an imposter and you read this book, you’ll be aware of the gaps in your knowledge and you’ll have the foundations on which to start filling in those gaps by yourself - and you’ll definitely learn enough new knowledge that will have an immediate impact in all your job interviews.

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