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There are several online learning platforms that are available for cyber security professionals that are trying to keep up with their education.  These platforms are a cost effective way to learn just about any topic you need, whenever you need it. One prominent platform is the Safari Books Online platform from O’Reilly.  If you’re looking at making an investment in an online learning platform for cyber security, and considering Safari, you’re probably wondering if it’s worth the cost.

So, is Safari Books Online worth it?  Safari Books Online is a great investment for anyone interested in having access to a massive library of always available educational content, as long as they purchase the yearly subscription during one of the discounted $199 per year promotions.  At the regular price, Safari is probably a little too pricey for the average user’s needs.

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of the Safari Books Online learning platform, how it compares to other online options, and whether you should make Safari an investment in your education.

Pros of Safari Books Online

I really am a fan of Safari Books Online, which I use on a weekly basis for some sort of content.  There are a number of reasons why I find Safari so useful.

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Pro #1:  Safari offers content from dozens of top notch publishers.  A real challenge for many online learning platforms that produce their own content is the difficulty in getting a substantial library of content built and available for users.  Safari is a little different in that it really is a conglomeration of dozens of publishers. Safari doesn’t rely on in-house content creation, but instead utilizes agreements between lots of publishers to provide a massive library of content.  For many technical topics, the majority of the top books that you would find on a site like Amazon will also be available in your Safari subscription.

Pro #2:  Safari has content available for nearly every topic.  Safari’s library is massive, and since it includes so many publishers, you will be hard pressed to find any topic that they don’t have material for, including brand new technologies or certifications.  This means that you can read up on just about any topic that you want at any time. I really like the fact that I can research or learn about penetration testing in the morning and then switch gears to Python programming later in the day if I want – all without buying a book through Amazon or going to the library.

Pro #3:  You’ll never buy a bad book again.  An unfortunate problem with purchasing books is that some books just aren’t that good, aren’t that helpful, or are incorrect or lack proper proofing.  With a subscription service like Safari, you can start or stop any book at any time, without incurring additional charges. I’ve found several books or video courses that just weren’t that helpful for me, but it’s no issue because i can just move on to something else.  The subscription is the subscription, so there’s no harm in only reading a book for a few minutes and then moving on.

Pro #4:  Safari has the non-technical skills covered too.  Getting promoted into management and need to tighten up your supervisory skills?  Assigned to lead a project and want to understand the right way to do project management?  Or are you thinking it’s time to start your own business and want to get the inside track on what an entrepreneur should do?  Safari has the non-technical skills covered too. There are substantial resources available on just about any business or professional topic, that you could in theory duplicate what you’d learn in an MBA.  Many other online learning platforms that support cyber security professionals stop at the technical skill topics. Safari goes beyond the technical, which is really helpful.

Pro #5:  Safari offers multiple content formats.  Some other online learning platforms are completely, or nearly completely video based courses.  A few others only offer text resources. Safari has content that is available in a variety of formats, including video, textbooks and even live trainings.  This enables you to shake up your approach when you’re learning a new subject.

Pro #6: There are multiple resources for most topics.  One of the best features of Safari is that for many common topics, there are several content resources available.  For example, Safari may offer a half dozen or more resources on a common technical topic, such as learning Java or studying for the CompTIA Security+ exam.  I really like this feature. When you’re trying to dig deep and really learn something, you have the option to reference and learn from multiple resources. Most other online learning systems only have one resource on a topic, so if that is incomplete or doesn’t work for you, you’re stuck.

Cons of Safari Books Online

Nothing is perfect and Safari does have a few things that aren’t helpful or are just plain annoying.  Most of these things aren’t a dealbreaker, but they are something to be aware of.

Con #1:  The Safari IOS app is clunky.  O’Reilly provides a Safari app that you can use to view any of their content.  The app is decent but it is certainly not great, and it’s somewhat limited and clunky compared to their website interface.  In fact, sometimes it’s actually easier to use the browser on your device than to use their app on your device to view their content, and certainly to search through their content.

Con #2:  Safari doesn’t keep your place accurately.  Most other learning platforms bring you right back to the exact page or part of a video where you left off.  Safari remembers the lesson you were on, but seems to drop you back at the beginning of that chapter or video.  If it’s been a few days since you were looking at that content, it’s easy to end up rereading or re-watching something you’ve already seen.  That is annoying and a waste of time.

Con #3:  There is some lesser quality content mixed in.  The vast majority of learning resources in the Safari library is top notch, but they do include a couple of publishers that could be considered second tier, or perhaps even a little lower.  This doesn’t mean that they are worthless, but it seems that in some cases these publishers may be somewhat of a channel for unpublished authors to distribute their content. I don’t know if this is true or the exact business arrangement, but there just seems to be a few things you’ll come across from time to time that aren’t quite as polished.

Con #4:  They remove some content on occasion.  Safari has said that they remove content on occasion that is not utilized very often, or perhaps that they no longer have access to.  That is understandable, and somewhat rare, but I did have one book that I was working my way through that all of the sudden was no longer available.  Again, it’s rare, but it does happen.

Final Verdict

Safari is a great resource if you need to keep expanding your knowledge (which should be just about everyone), and they offer individual and team subscription options.  The regular price for the individual Safari subscription is not unreasonable, but it might be too much for the average user and the amount of content that they can realistically consume.  O’Reilly offers a free trial for Safari, which is nice to try out, and they occasionally offer a deep discount, which brings the annual subscription for individuals down to $199 for the year.   If you can get Safari for yourself for a year at this price, it’s a no-brainer. In fact, given that this discount works out to only $17 a month, if you’re not willing to invest in this, then you’re not really serious about learning and improving in your career.

Related Questions

Is Pluralsight a good investment?  Pluralsight has a great deal of very high quality content for cyber security professionals and programmers, among others, but the vast majority of it is video based.  That isn’t a bad thing, but it’s something to keep in mind as you consider your personal learning style.

Can I learn cyber security from YouTube?  YouTube has a lot of content from millions of publishers on literally billions of topics, but there is no accuracy or quality control when it comes to cyber security learning resources on YouTube.  Investing in a vetted learning platform is a more effective way to learn cyber security than exclusively watching YouTube videos.

About the author 

Matt Day

Matt Day is a cybersecurity professional with over twenty years of experience in the IT, cybersecurity and technology training fields. He has a degree in Computer Information Science and CompTIA A+, Network+, Security+, Server+, CySA+, and Cisco CCNA certifications. Matt is the author of the courses CCNA Troubleshooting Mastery and Cybersecurity Career Launch, and the book CCENT Troubleshooting Guide.

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