I'm often asked how to learn Java or what book to read on J2EE. (As a book author, I like it when people want to learn by reading books.)
If you don't know Java or J2EE at all, I don't know how you should learn the basics. I started by hacking other people's examples and writing my own little "hello world" programs, adding features to learn them: a "hello world" servlet, a "hello world" session bean, "hello world" in a JMS message, etc. I remember that running a simple one-class J2SE program was harder than writing it. I had the darnedest time with classpaths; seems like I was always getting NoClassDefFoundError whenever my code was supposed to run.
Where can you get a more guided education? Sun has its tutorials. This site (developerWorks) has a whole page of links on learning Java, and another on getting started with WebSphere. I've also heard good things about the book Thinking in Java (and not just from Bruce!). If you've recently learned Java or J2EE, please add a comment to this blog entry and let us know what resources you've found helpful. Or, if you don't want to post a comment, send me e-mail and I'll post a summary of the suggestions I receive.
Once you know the basics, I can help you improve your skills. The best book I know of for becoming a great J2EE developer is Core J2EE Patterns, Second Edition. (I bet you thought I'd name a book I wrote. I'll get around to that sometime, but not now.) Its advice applies to programming in any J2EE application server, including WebSphere Application Server.
For WebSphere audiences, two more books I recommend are from colleagues of mine in ISSW: Enterprise Java Programming with IBM WebSphere, Second Edition on application development with WebSphere Studio and IBM WebSphere: Deployment and Advanced Configuration on, well, deployment and advanced configuration with WebSphere Application Server.
I'll talk more in a later entry about other good stuff to be reading, but this should be a good start.