I have an issue that hasn't ever surfaced as a problem, but it's a question that's been bugging me internally a little bit for the last several years.
I've worked at a few different places where they hadn't given me explicit permission to read programming books on the clock, but I've done it anyway.
On one hand, it seems totally appropriate to do my learning on the clock. Even if I were explicitly told that I'm not allowed to read programming books at work, I feel like it would still be irresponsible for me not to, in the same way that even if your boss told you not to bother writing tests for your code or use source control, it would be irresponsible for you not to. I see sharpening the saw as part of the job, just as much as writing production code is part of the job.
On the other hand, I just feel a little bit funny about it. According to reason, I'm not doing anything wrong - in fact, I'm going out of my way to do something right. But according to my gut, something's up. I don't get it.
And to address the question of why I don't just read these programming books at home: on the off-hours, I read books about self-improvement, psychology, productivity, marketing, business, and other topics that certainly improve my overall effectiveness as an employee, but usually don't have much to do with programming. These skills bleed over into helping me be a better developer. For example, my enhanced persuasive skills have helped me install new development best practices, whereas in the past I've floundered in that area due to my naiveté in dealing with people. So I couldn't justify replacing that reading with technical reading...although I guess I could pepper the queue with technical books and just reduce my reading bandwidth a little.
Anyway, my question is: Is it ethical to read programming books on the clock?
I didn't ask for permission to read because "it's easier to get forgiveness later than to get permission now," and if my policy is to ask permission before doing any particular thing, I know I'll never accomplish much.
By "on the clock" I mean, at my desk during work hours. (I do happen to be hourly, but I'm expected to work about 40 hours per week, so I don't see a meaningful difference from salaried employee.)