The self-respecting developer's guide to required surfing

To keep up with industry news and information, developers need an assortment of reliable Web resources. See how your list of usual haunts compares to the ones we've included here. You may even pick up a few new favorites.
Written by Shelley Doll, Contributor
Staying on top of news and technology is an essential part of being a developer. If you fall behind, you’ll be left behind. I’ve compiled a list of some Web sites you should frequent to keep abreast of all the latest information and trends—plus a few that will just give you something to talk about around the water cooler.

In trying to determine what sites to include in this list, I had to make some hard choices. First, I excluded newsgroups, Usenet, or mailing lists. While they are important sources of information, and you should pay attention to them, they tend to be so granular that it would be impossible to generalize them for the purposes of this article.

Then, when I started compiling the list, I realized it was about a mile long. In addition to sites in the categories listed here, plenty of information is available that's devoted to particular areas of expertise. So I decided to spin off a second article to look at technology-specific Web sites.

Finally, I included only sites that are actively maintained and that, for the most part, have some sort of content validation. The last thing you want to do as a developer is to rely on stale information.

So here it is: the first list of essential sites to help you stay on top of technology trends.

Tech news
These sites address current issues in the industry. There are dozens to choose from, so I included my personal favorites.

  • CNET’s News.com—"Tech news first." Besides being one of Builder.com’s sister sites, News.com does a great job of presenting timely news for techies across the board.
  • The Register—"Biting the hand that feeds IT." This one leans toward hardware and systems, but it isn't exclusive to those topics. The Register often picks up stories that other sites miss.
  • Slashdot—"News for nerds. Stuff that matters." This site is definitely biased toward the open source community, but it covers a lot of other material as well and has incredible user involvement and constant heated discussions. Everyone should visit this site at least once.
  • Newsforge—"The online newspaper of record for Linux and open source." The tagline pretty much says it all. These folks keep an eye out for Linux and open source involvement from the private sector, as well as advancements in the community.

General development
Cross-training is a good idea, as is keeping an eye on the competition. There are tons of developer digest Web sites out there, ranging in quality and reliability. Here are some of the more reputable sites I frequent.

  • Builder.com—"Beyond the code." You are here! Builder.com covers a broad range of topics, from programming to architecting to managing development solutions. It includes product reviews, discussion groups, technical articles, online books, and much more.
  • Programmers heaven—"Home of the developer." This is a popular, well-maintained site spanning all things relating to development. The site covers pretty much every type of programming technology you can think of. (Builder.com has reviewed this site.)
  • O’Reilly Network—"The source for open and emerging technologies." This is the Web site of the popular bookseller, with articles and how-to's on a wide range of topics. O'Reilly also maintains several technology specific Web sites, including java.oreilly.com, windows.oreilly.com, and perl.oreilly.com.
  • TechWeb—"The business technology network." Here, you'll find research, articles, and news pertaining to enterprise issues in technology.
  • TechTV—This is the companion Web site to the popular TechTV television station. Besides programming information, it offers tech news, product reviews, and how-to's.

If you don’t have at least two security sites in your routine, you’re asking for trouble. Here are some of the more respected ones to choose from:

  • SecurityFocus—"Enterprise security threat management systems." This is a great site for security solutions, and it also includes news and advisories. My favorite is its ARIS ThreatCon. (Builder.com reviewed this site.)
  • CERT Coordination Center (CERT/CC)—This federally funded site is maintained by Carnegie Mellon University. You must frequent this site. It offers advisories and lots of great articles about trends and security practices.
  • Info Security News—"The info security news service." This site focuses on news about data security. It's not so much an advisory, but it is thorough.
  • @Stake—"Where security & business intersect." This enterprise security news site also offers courses and seminars for security professionals.

Development theory
We'd like to think we know all there is to know about our particular flavor of development, but it never hurts to brush up on basic theory. Times change, and you have to change your thinking along with them. Here are a few sites that might help.

  • Useit.com: Jakob Nielsen’s Website—This is the home of Jakob Nielsen’s biweekly column about Web usability. He really knows what he’s talking about.
  • Interface hall of shame—This is from Isys Information Architects. This page hasn’t been updated in a while, but it’s still excellent at pointing out common interface mistakes people make today.
  • Object Orientation Tips—This site has a lot of great tips and links pertaining to object-oriented design in building applications. Every OO programmer can learn something here.
  • The Cathedral and the Bazaar—Written by Eric S. Raymond, this piece had a huge impact on me the first (few) times I read it. It talks about design and development theory, especially as it pertains to open source software. Even if you’re as closed-system as they come, you should read this.

If you don't have a good sense of humor, writing code all day long can suck the life right out of you. These sites usually give me a chuckle.

  • The Onion—"America’s finest news source." At first glance you might think it's news, but really it's just hilarious.
  • Something Awful—Not for the weak of heart, this site delivers a unique look at the world around us. You'll typically find long rants that for some reason make you feel better about yourself.
  • Fark—This site features users' spin on the day’s headlines.
  • User Friendly—View a daily geek cartoon, along with links to random humorous Web sites.

How did you measure up?
Including research as part of your daily routine will help you keep on top of current trends and advancements and expose you to a number of new technologies. If you regularly visit all of these sites, you’re definitely a technology aficionado. If not, it might be in your best interests to start reviewing at least a few of them on a regular basis.
In the next segment of this series, I’ll present technology-specific sites that can help you stay sharp in your area of expertise. Until then, be sure to post your additions below, and keep surfing!

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