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SSB Log Entry 1158

I Wish There Were Technical Audio Books

The Problem

I have always preferred audio books and video code tutorials over written works. I also hold the (controversial?) opinion that example code is only useful for teaching syntax and is ineffective for conveying programming concepts.

I've been disappointed in the past to find that most audio books marketed to software developers revolve around topics like history, commentary, storytelling and "soft skills". Although these are great topics for a book, I want to be clear that this is not what I am talking about. What I want is an audio book that helps computer programmers acquire new technical skills.

Podcasts rarely dive deeper than commentary or storytelling. YouTube tutorials are nearly impossible to follow via audio alone. Performing text-to-speech conversion on a programming book will quickly fail due to the large amount of tables, lists and example snippets (try it- it's hilarious).

A quick search on Amazon or Google Play for "Computer Programming Audiobooks" turns up either no results, or some very sketchy results that appear to be nothing more than a money grab.

Although deeply technical audiobooks don't exist, I don't think that's to say that they can't exist. I'm curious to hear what others think and if others have also considered this idea.

I am proposing the idea of an audio-only programming book that is highly technical (teaches you how to write software or use a specific software tool) without the use of text, video, tables, code samples

But Why?

I'm sure there are plenty of blind and dyslexic programmers that would benefit from highly technical audio books. On a less impactful scale, it could also help people who either prefer not to read as a matter of preference and also those who have a daily half-hour commute by car where it would be impossible to read a written book or video tutorial but want to do something more productive with their time than just listen to music or a podcast.

Programming Concepts Without Code?

In 2011, I wanted to learn Ruby. I had an hour-long bicycle commute and a Kindle. I purchased a Kindle book covering Ruby and began listening to the book in text-to-speech mode on my daily commute.

In this particular Ruby book, all code samples and tables were converted to images, so long code snippets and reference tables were skipped over automatically. This made it very easy to read the book via text-to-speech. Any book that contains long code examples is nearly impossible to read via text-to-speech, so the formatting decision worked quite well for my use case.

Surprisingly, when it came time to write Ruby code, I found that I knew where to look in the documentation for the things I needed. I also understood the underlying concepts well, so learning the syntax was not difficult.

Overall, I would say the experience was effective, but not perfect. The areas where the experiment fell short relate to the fact that the book was not supposed to be used as an audio book. It simply was not the author's intent

What I wonder is: What if highly technical programming books were written with these constraints in mind? What would that look like? Would other people find this useful?

A person on Reddit asked the same question 4 years ago and got quite a few upvotes. Perhaps this is a good idea that has not yet been pursued?


  • Not a podcast. I like podcasts, but they rarely teach skill acquisition.
  • Not a "soft skills" audio book about non-technical topics like leadership or communication. These are also plentiful.
  • Not an audio-version of API documentation. That would be a hilariously terrible idea.
  • Not a word-for-word dictation of an existing written work. Written works will have too many visual elements. At the very least, it would need to be a derivitive work, if not an entirely new work altogether.

The Goal

The goal would be to create an audio resource that dives deep into real programming concepts while avoiding visual elements like:

  • Syntax / example code
  • Reference tables, or any type of reference dump for that matter.
  • Illustrations and figure
  • Example snippets

For the format to work, the book would need to teach all the basic concepts, patterns and anti-patterns, but not attempt to teach syntax or embed reference resources (linking in an appendix is OK).

I would declare the work a success if a listener, after hearing the entirety of the audio book, was able to:

  • Entirely comprehend the API docs of the tool/language discussed
  • Read code written with technology XYZ and have a general understanding of what it does, how it works, antipatterns, best practices, etc..

Experiment Idea

Writing a book from scratch (audio or written kind) is a big task. Conversely, there are a lot of great creative commons programming books out there. As an experiment to test this idea, I am considering creating a derivative work ("fork") of a creative commons programming book that places an emphasis on listeners rather than readers.

Is this a crazy idea? What do you think?