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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 Editor at Dark Reading. In this role he focuses on product and technology coverage for the publication. In addition he works on audio and video programming for Dark Reading and contributes to activities at Interop ITX, Black Hat, INsecurity, and ... View Full Bio

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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.
hho927
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hho927,
User Rank: Ninja
5/16/2016 | 8:37:29 PM
Re: Must Read?
Me too :) None of these are on universities' book lists.

I guess these are for script kiddies who took a few programming classes and become 'programmers'. Especially, web programmers, ah ah terrrible codes, spaghettis.
TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
5/16/2016 | 1:33:15 PM
Must Read?
I guess it depends on how you learned programming and how long you have doing it. But I'm going on 30 years now and haven't even heard of those books, much less read them. Four years of school taught me how to program, after that it was just chasing changes in tech doing it. I was looking at books on my desk, mine are all focused on a particular type of tech that was new at one point in time: Java, The XML Handbook, Webmaster in a Nutshell, Hacking Exposed, Proven Portals, ExtJS 4 Web Application Cookbook, etc.

Most of my reading was focused on the business side (I've always worked for Mfg companies). From the Peter Principle, If it Ain't Broke, Reengineering the Corporation, several books on Lean, etc. To me, understanding what you were trying to apply computer programming to was the challenge, not executing it. The only programming challenge was chasing all the languanges (COBOL to ExtJS/HTML5) and methodologies (green screen to web to Touch) which changed so incredibly over past 30 years.
jries921
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jries921,
User Rank: Ninja
5/16/2016 | 12:10:38 PM
While The Prince is an interesting choice...
...it strikes me as most useful in identifying and defending oneself and one's colleagues against the dark side of office politics.  There are already too many Machiavellian princes in this world; what we need are ways to make the game less profitable.

 
Stephane Parent
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Stephane Parent,
User Rank: Moderator
5/16/2016 | 10:31:22 AM
Psychology of Computer Programming
I would add The Pyschology of Computer Programming by Gerald Weinberg, to the list. Like Brook's Mythical Man Month, it still provides truthful insight into the psyche of programmers and their art.
erlrodd1
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erlrodd1,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/16/2016 | 9:22:25 AM
Brooks' newer book "Design of Design"
Everyone knows Brooks' book "The Mythican Man Month", but few know a more recent book, "The Design of Design". In my career, I was often asked by management, "How can we teach someone to design?" It's a tough question. This book tries to do that. At first read, it seems like a meandering book from a life full of experience. But on reflection, I think it really does start to teach what it is to "design' which is of course, quite different from coding. There is an appendix on OS/360, but also on building a beach house and doing a home extension. These real life examples bring to life "design".
ClementO702
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ClementO702,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/16/2016 | 8:41:49 AM
Missing one
This is the best start for anyone thinking of programming -- How To Think Like A Programmer by Paul Vickers: https://www.amazon.co.uk/How-Think-Like-Programmer-Bewildered/dp/1408065827
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