In this forum, there are a lot of people whose primary job is programming. And yet they are very knowledgeable on a lot of financial topics.

Can you please share what you do/read on a regular basis to have this knowledge?

Like... a new book every month... regular trading... taking coaching on investing?

The reason I ask is that I have been reading the recommended books in this forum for ~6 months now, but am still green on a lot of basics :)

My primary job is programming too.

Thank you.

  • There probably isn't a bucket list for such stuff. It is basically, read and assimilate whatever you can lay your hands on. Limiting to only one set of articles or books isn't going to help. Finance is an ever evolving and a very murky world, more knowledge generally always reflects in your bank balances.
    – DumbCoder
    Commented Jul 7, 2011 at 7:47
  • DumbCoder: ...then again it can be a very simple monotone task. It is ofnen in the interest of certain firms to create an impression of complicacies although their prospectures mention that they can use index funds to certain level. Look how index funds do it, it is something that computers can do but the time-consuming part is to meet your risk-tolerance with proper portfolio. You can create as complicated image of fiance as you want but simplicity works with things such as stupid-sounding index tracking.
    – user1770
    Commented Jul 7, 2011 at 17:35
  • Kaushik: "very knowledgeable on a lot of financial topics"? Are you sure? It is essential to know what you need, not everything. I like the answer that mentions the word "to unlearn". It does you no good if you jam random internet articles to your head without proper background and proper understanding of the source. I would start with booring looking SEC -articles or some books. But ask a new question if you want a more specific answer.
    – user1770
    Commented Jul 7, 2011 at 17:39

6 Answers 6


I'm another programmer, I guess we all just like complicated things, or got here via stackoverflow.

Obligatory tedious but accurate point: Investing is not personal finance, in fact it's maybe one of the less important parts of it. See this answer: Where to start with personal finance?

Obligatory warning for software developer type minds: getting into investing because it's complicated and therefore fun is a really awful idea from a financial perspective. Or see behavioral finance research on how analytical/professional/creative type people are often terrible at investing, while even-tempered practical people are better. The thing with investing is that inaction is better than action, tried and true is better than creative, and simple is better than complicated. So if you're like me and many programmers and like creative, complicated action - not good for the wallet. You've been warned.

That said. :-)

Stuff I read

In general I hate reading too much financial information because I think it makes me take ill-advised actions. The actions I most need to take have to do with my career and my spending patterns. So I try to focus on reading about software development, for example. Or I answer questions on this site, which at least might help someone out, and I enjoy writing.

For basic financial news and research, I prefer Morningstar.com, especially if you get the premium version. The writing has more depth, it's often from qualified financial analysts, and with the paid version you get data and analysis on thousands of funds and stocks, instead of a small number as with Motley Fool newsletters. I don't follow Morningstar regularly anymore, instead I use it for research when I need to pick funds in a 401k or whatever. Another caveat on Morningstar is that the "star ratings" on funds are dumb. Look at the Analyst Picks and the analyst writeups instead.

I just flipped through my RSS reader and I have 20-30 finance-related blogs in there collecting unread posts. It looks like the only one I regularly read is http://alephblog.com/ which is sort of random. But I find David Merkel very thoughtful and interesting. He's also a conservative without being a partisan hack, and posts frequently.

I read the weekly market comment at http://hussmanfunds.com/ as well. Most weeks it says the market is overvalued, so that's predictable, but the interesting part is the rationale and the other ideas he talks about.

I read a lot of software-related blogs and there's some bleed into finance, especially from the VC world; blogs like http://www.avc.com/ or http://bhorowitz.com/ or whatever. Anyway I spend most of my reading time on career-related stuff and I think this is also the correct decision from a financial perspective. If you were a doctor, you'd be better off reading about doctoring, too.

I read finance-related books fairly often, I guess there are other threads listing ideas on that front. I prefer books about principles rather than a barrage of daily financial news and questionable ideas.

Other than that, I keep up with headlines, just reading the paper every day including business-related topics is good enough. If there's some big event in the financial markets, it'll show up in the regular paper.

Take a class

I initially learned about finance by reading a pile of books and alongside that taking the CFP course and the first CFA course. Both are probably equivalent to about a college semester worth of work, but you can plow through them in a couple months each if you focus. You can just do the class (and take the exam if you like), without having to go on and actually get the work experience and the certifications. I didn't go on to do that.

This sounds like a crazy thing to do, and it kind of is, but I think it's also sort of crazy to expect to be competent on a topic without taking some courses or otherwise getting pretty deep into the material.

If you're a normal person and don't have time to take finance courses, you're likely better off either keeping it super-simple, or else outsourcing if you can find the right advisor: What exactly can a financial advisor do for me, and is it worth the money? When it's inevitably complex (e.g. as you approach retirement) then an advisor is best. My mom is retiring soon and I found her a professional, for example.

I like having a lot of knowledge myself, because it's just the only way I could feel comfortable. So for sure I understand other people wanting to have it too.

But what I'd share from the other side is that once you have it, the conclusion is that you don't have enough knowledge (or time) to do anything fancy anyway, and that the simple answers are fine. Check out http://www.amazon.com/Smart-Simple-Financial-Strategies-People/dp/0743269942

Investing for fun isn't investing for profit

Many people recommend Motley Fool (I see two on this question already!). The site isn't evil, but the problem (in my opinion) is that it promotes an attitude toward and a style of investing that isn't objectively justifiable for practical reasons. Essentially I don't think optimizing for making money and optimizing for having fun coexist very well. If investing is your chosen hobby rather than fishing or knitting, then Motley Fool can be fun with their tone and discussion forums, but other people in forums are just going to make you go wrong money-wise; see behavioral finance research again. Talking to others isn't compatible with ice in your decision-making veins.

Also, Motley Fool tends to pervasively make it sound like active investing is easier than it is. There's a reason the Chartered Financial Analyst curriculum is a few reams of paper plus 4 years of work experience, rather than reading blogs. Practical investing ("just buy the target date fund") can be super easy, but once you go beyond that, it's not. I don't really agree with the "anyone can do it and it's not work!" premise, any more than I think that about lawyering or doctoring or computer programming. After 15 years I'm a programming expert; after some courses and a lot of reading, I'm not someone who could professionally run an actively-managed portfolio.

I think most of us need to have the fun part separate from the serious cash part. Maybe literally distinct accounts that you keep at separate brokerages. Or just do something else for fun, besides investing.

Morningstar has this problem too, and finance.yahoo.com, and Bloomberg, I mean, they are all interested in making you think about investing a lot more than you ought to. They all have an incentive to convince you that the latest headlines make a difference, when they don't.

Bottom line, I don't think personal finance changes very quickly; the details of specific mutual funds change, and there's always some new twist in the tax code, but the big picture is pretty stable. I think going in-depth (say, read the Chartered Financial Analyst curriculum materials) would teach you a lot more than reading blogs frequently.

The most important things to work on are income (career) and spending (to maximize income minus spending). That's where time investment will pay off.

I know it's annoying to argue the premise of the question rather than answering, but I did try to mention a couple things to read somewhere in there ;-)

  • -1 why this amount of story-telling? Can you write it a bit more succintly? I find there is no sense to confuse the op with too much information. Prioritize one topic and less reinvent the wheel. I feel I have read similar answers somewhere else.
    – user1770
    Commented Jul 7, 2011 at 12:25
  • Great answer Havoc. But you completed CFA L1 in 2 months????
    – Victor123
    Commented Jul 8, 2011 at 20:16
  • And the thing is...as a programmer, your income stagnates after 10 yrs unless you mvoe to management. If your case is different, please share details
    – Victor123
    Commented Jul 8, 2011 at 20:17
  • Also...why do you say" investing is a small part of personal finance?" Investing is a way to maximise income...which you consider important
    – Victor123
    Commented Jul 8, 2011 at 20:20
  • I didn't do CFAL1 in 2 months, that's more the "if you do nothing else" time I think. I was working ;-)
    – Havoc P
    Commented Jul 9, 2011 at 2:47

The best learning technique for me is not to dredge through books in order to gain a better understanding of finance. This is tedious and causes me to lose interest. I'm not sure of your tolerance for this type of learning. I tend to learn in small pieces. Something piques my interest and I go off reading about that particular topic.

May I suggest some alternate methods:

  • Answer a question or two on this site that interests you. It doesn't matter if the question is already answered. First, you may have to do research and reading to understand the question and terms. Then you must develop a coherent answer. I find that attempting to explain a concept in writing finds holes in my understanding that I must fill through more reading and understanding. Do this for a few questions and you'll be surprised how much you have learned.
  • Create your own personal balance sheet, income, and cash flow statements. This is a great way to learn and understand corporate financial statements. It will be easier to read financial statements once you can relate them to your own financial circumstances. This is a practical, hands-on way to learn about some accounting concepts as well.
  • Read financial articles that you find interesting. If you come across a term or concept you don't understand, stop, research the particular item until you understand it, and then continue reading. The first few articles may take a while to read but it won't take long before you can read entire articles and understand all the terms and concepts.
  • +1 I like this, internet cannot beat masterpieces in literature or good research papers.
    – user1770
    Commented Jul 7, 2011 at 12:24
  1. I have a subscription to the Motley Fool's Income Investor newsletter and I read that every month.
  2. The other thing I read to learn is annual reports. And not just the glossy marketing reports. Read the 10-K. Very dry just the numbers and the facts behind the numbers. Try to understand how the numbers relate. Some companies will be easier to understand then others but the key is to start somewhere.

Good luck!

  • -1 Motley Fool is a marketing machine, beware. It does contain some legit information but then again it sometimes contains so much marketing spam and trading progaganda that I would be careful with this populism magnet, I would recommend to steer far away from it before reading some legit books such as "Intelligent Investor" or the Hindsight -book about speculation.
    – user1770
    Commented Jul 7, 2011 at 10:51

I've found Pragmatic Capitalism very helpful.


For learning about finances my main two financial resources are this site, and the Motley Fool. My secondary sources are keeping up with columns by my favourite economic journalists - in the press in the US, Australia, England, and India.

Regarding your comment about feeling green on the basics despite the reading - you're not alone. I've been interested in financials for better than 10 years, but there are a lot of questions on this site where I say to myself, "I've no idea of what the answer could be, what are our resident experts saying?" Having said that, there are some topics where I feel as though I can weigh in - and they tend to be where I have a little book knowledge and a lot of personal experience.

  • -1 I never read so-called financial or economics "news". Have a look 100 years to the past, can you find such spam machines of today size? Cycles are long which no-one can predict but let me tell you that they tend to last more than a few days that few people who are reading Motley Fool probably think. Such populist data is meaningless.
    – user1770
    Commented Jul 7, 2011 at 13:54
  • gef05: hard question about what resources I use, I use everything but very selectively. If you are reading government-audited material, you can read it differently. But if you really want an answer to this question, open a new question. It is hard to concentrate on answer with revenge mentality.
    – user1770
    Commented Jul 7, 2011 at 17:25

Before you can truly learn, you must unlearn first. I recommend the book "Fooled by Randomness" by Nassim Taleb.

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