Book review: The Programmer’s Brain


As a software developer, I usually self-refer as a “Professional learner” and this book’s subtitle (“What every programmer needs to know about cognition“) caught my eye right away.

The author, Felienne Hermans, does a fantastic job explaining how our brain processes new information and shares, what I found the most valuable and immediately applicable, scientifically based tips and techniques to leverage our brain’s power to become a better programmer.

I think of this book as the result of the application of Barbara Oakley’s excellent work on Learning How to Learn to a Software Developer’s context – if you are not familiar with Barbara Oakley’s work, see the end of the post for more info.


Yes, this is an excellent book. Check it out!

(This is not a paid review, but I get commissions for purchases made through links on this post at no extra cost to you.)

Book Overview

The book is divided into 4 parts.

Part 1 is about getting better at reading code. The author explains how our brains process information (and code, more specifically), and goes into practical tips on how to read code better (yes, reading code is a separate skill and you can develop it!).

Part 2 deals with the thinking processes and how they affect our ability to solve problems.

You know when you open some code for review and you have a hard time understanding what a chunk of code does? Part 3 is all about the cognitive load we get into when reading code and what we can do to write better code so that other people can understand our code more easily. So, unless you want to keep writing bad code for job security or #reasons, do not skip this section.

In the last part of the book, the author talks about writing code in a team/group environment. Chapter 13, “How to Onboard New Developers” in my opinion should be a must-read for any lead and team manager (yeah, go ahead and read it now; you can read it standalone from the rest of the book and still take away a lot, I promise!).

My takeaways

I really liked this book (in case it’s not clear yet!) and I personally loved part 3 because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about readability, maintainability, clean code, and all that good stuff. Another important takeaway for me is to work and get really good at the basics as the building blocks to solve more complex problems.

For more info about Barbara Oakley’s work

Barbara Oakley is a professor of Engineering and is famous for her book “Learning How to Learn“, among others. The content of the book was made into a free online course “Learning How to Learn” on Coursera by UC San Diego. I highly recommended it! If you want a shorter version, she gave a talk for the series “Talks at Google” about this book.

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