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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 Senior Analyst at Omdia, focusing on enterprise security management. Curtis has been writing about technologies and products in computing and networking since the early 1980s. He has been on staff and contributed to technology-industry publications ... View Full Bio

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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!
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!
Curt Franklin
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Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
5/17/2016 | 8:57:48 AM
Re: While The Prince is an interesting choice...
@jries921 I agree that too much time is spent (and too much energy wasted) in many organizations playing silly political games. I think the reason I like The Prince is that it helps you understand the game and recognize how others are playing. The game is at its most dangerous when you're in the middle and don't realize that a game is underway.
Curt Franklin
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Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
5/17/2016 | 8:53:07 AM
Re: Psychology of Computer Programming
@Stephane, I'm not really familiar with that one -- would you say that it's aimed more at the programmer trying to become a better programmer or to the manager trying to understand the programmers he or she is managing?
Curt Franklin
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Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
5/17/2016 | 7:59:38 AM
Re: Brooks' newer book "Design of Design"
@erlrodd1 I'll take a look at "Design of Design." It seems like the whole world of design is getting a much closer look from software developers -- "Design Thinking" is a term I hear used a lot when companies are talking about their development discipline. Learning how to not just design, but design well, is going to be a critical skill going forward.
Curt Franklin
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Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
5/17/2016 | 7:48:34 AM
Re: Missing one
@ClementO702, thanks for the pointer -- I'll check that one out. I agree that a key piece of becoming a developer -- rather than simply someone who knows how to write code -- is learning the thinking process that goes along with solving problems using programming.
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