10 Must-Read Books For All Programmers - InformationWeek
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5/15/2016
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10 Must-Read Books For All Programmers

The road from newbie to professional developer can be long and bumpy. Here are 10 books (plus a few more) that can help guide you on the journey to success.
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(Image: Unsplash via Pixabay)

(Image: Unsplash via Pixabay)

What is programming? Is it an art? How about a craft? I know, it's a profession, right? If your answer is that it is (or at least, can be) all of these, then it's likely that you're interested in writing computer programs for more than just an income. If you want to be a programmer who gets better with time, then there are books that can help you.

I know that reading a book is an archaic activity, but I'm OK with that. There are a lot of archaic activities that still produce good results and in the case of the books on this list, the results can be very good, indeed. The good results I'm talking about have to do with becoming a better programmer -- and I'm defining that as being better at creating better code, being better at getting a job as a programmer, and being better at ultimately becoming someone who can lead teams of programmers.

Now, there are a couple of things you need to know about this list. The first is that it's my list. I asked for suggestions from several folks (and I've given a couple of people credit for their responses) but this doesn't come from a fancy survey or any scientific process at all. These are books that, in my more than 30 years of writing code, managing teams of developers and testers, and running testing labs and operations for four publications, I think people who want to be better programmers should be reading.

[See Top Programming Languages That Will Future-Proof Your Portfolio.]

The next thing to know is that I could have gone on with the list for several more entries. Three books, in particular, didn't make the list, because I thought they were just a little too esoteric, but they had a huge impact on me. I'll share those three with you if you make it to the final part of the article. As it is, there are 14 books here, but they fit into 10 nice packages, and it's my list. So there.

Finally, the order of the entries doesn't indicate any sort of ranking, though the first book (or set of books) is what I consider the foundation document for modern programming. After that, feel free to assign any ranking you'd like.

Although it's my list, I'd love to know about yours. Which book or books do you recommend to up-and-coming programmers or for seasoned coders? Which book or books had a major impact on your career? I'd love to know what the books are, and what impact they had. If there's enough interest, we might even look at putting together a reading list and some sort of group discussion.

Happy reading.

Curtis Franklin Jr. is executive editor for technical content at InformationWeek. In this role he oversees product and technology coverage for the publication. In addition he acts as executive producer for InformationWeek Radio and Interop Radio where he works with ... View Full Bio

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hho927
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hho927,
User Rank: Ninja
5/23/2016 | 2:51:38 PM
Re: Must Read?
The new timers (bootcamp grads) tend to jump into program it (coding). Works well with Agile software development.

It's fine for a few pages of codes. Beyond that maintenance or debug is painful for somebody else.

Web programming is a few lines of codes here & there. Most websites, mgt don't know what they want before they see it. Since it's changing constantly, it fits agile; young programmers.

Universities taught 'waterfall' method, they barely touch agile.

 

 
vnewman2
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vnewman2,
User Rank: Ninja
5/20/2016 | 3:40:33 PM
Re: Must Read?
So here is an interesting tidbit from a study done by Triplebyte, a company that matches engineers with startups, regarding the skill difference between those who have attended college vs bootcamps for coding. They found that bootcamp grads match or beat college grads on practical skills, defined as understanding a problem devising a solution and coding it).  But, college grads do better with algorithms, low-level systems and how a computer actually works.  
Somedude8
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Somedude8,
User Rank: Ninja
5/20/2016 | 12:07:25 PM
Some additions
Will be checking in to a couple of those books! I was surprised that these were not on th elist:

Code Complete

Design Patterns

Additionally, there is a little known book called Code Craft which I found incredibly useful and interesting. Then one out of left field for this list: SOA: Principles of Service Design by Thomas Erl. "What? SOA?!?!" I found that book changed the way I though about coupling and design quite a bit, and has affected nearly all design work I do, SOA or not.
hho927
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hho927,
User Rank: Ninja
5/19/2016 | 3:30:46 PM
Re: Must Read?
Oh yeah I forgot most very old programmers (Basic). Basic , VB programmers.

4 years of college teaches most programmers to write pseudocodes first then clean, clear, methodology, codes.

Not all of them though.

Programmers without college write clean, good codes too. But it's rare. I guess it depends on the first trainers.

If they establish bad habbits is a hard thing to change. Most programmers are very strong and opionated.
Jocelyn78
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Jocelyn78,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/19/2016 | 1:18:21 PM
Re: Must Read?
Thank you for this information.
Curt Franklin
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Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
5/17/2016 | 3:01:00 PM
Re: Must Read?
@TerryB, I agree that pretty much no one would mistake me for a script-kiddie: The photo, alone, should take care of that!

It may be that I'm unusual in that I like to read books in subjects for which I have some expertise -- from programming to photography to audio production. I think it's a good technique for getting better and getting better is typically a good thing.

And I do think the question of how people who don't go to university can improve will become more and more important as a growing number of people question whether a batchelor's degree is necessary for a programmer. I'm not sure the answer is "yes" and I'm not sure what hiring managers are going to do to replace the credential. I suspect that something like a programming portfolio is going to become more and more important.

Maybe github will become the Linkedin for programmers!
StéphaneP117
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StéphaneP117,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/17/2016 | 2:23:07 PM
Re: Psychology of Computer Programming
I read it as a programmer and found it useful to understand my colleagues and myself.

I certainly think managers could also get some insight into cat herding.

I would say the book is targeted at both audiences equally.
TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
5/17/2016 | 12:40:58 PM
Re: Must Read?
I don't think @hho927 was calling you script kiddie, Curtis. I get what he meant though, people that go to ITT for two years and get "programming" degree. No question the books you mentioned would be useful to them.

Web programming certainly didn't create spaghetti code though. By far the worst code I've ever seen was the RPG people used to write back on IBM Sys 34/36 midranges. Nothing else compares to that.  I remember having to use the "structured goto" approach in RPG until newer versions implemented LEAVE and LEAVESR opcodes.

Server side web programming was a challenge to organize in the pure CGI days. That was first time I ever applied MVC, just to get some maintainability in the code.
Curt Franklin
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Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
5/17/2016 | 9:06:24 AM
Re: Must Read?
@hho927, I'm going to disagree with you. While these might not be on university book lists I think they're useful for developers at different points in their careers who want to get better. Some of them -- the ones that present problems and help you work through solutions -- are for those who want to go beyond the basics taught in the universities. Others, such as those on design, are for those who want to build their skills beyond basic problem solving.

I suppose I'm going to disagree most, though, because no one's ever called me a "script-kiddie" (I was well into my career before the term was coined) and many of these were suggested by professionals well out of the script-kiddie pool themselves.

But I appreciate your opinion and I have a question: Which books have you found to be most helpful in your career?
Curt Franklin
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Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
5/17/2016 | 9:01:45 AM
Re: Must Read?
@TerryB I also learned to program when at least some of my work involved spending time at a card punch machine. I think that I'd put most of these in the same category as the business books you talk about -- trying to understand what you're doing (and, in the context of the organization, why) so you can be better at the craft within the organization.

And I think some of them apply at different levels depending on how you approach programming. I like thinking about things from different perspectives because it helps me be open to trying new solutions to problems. Others have approaches that work best for them -- that's why looking at the books someone finds useful is so interesting!
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