10 Books Every Developer Should Read

LibraryWho doesn’t love a great library with books, right? Here is a picture of mine! Not really, I wish…

Over the years I’ve had countless discussions with developers and peers about the best books to read. It is a never ending quest to find the source of wisdom that will make us better at creating software products. Below is a collection of the 10 books that I would recommend to every software developer (and in general for everyone involved in the industry).

It is important to note that none of these books relate to a particular technology or a programming language. Being a great developer is not about knowing well some programming language or a specific platform. It is about being able to think and solve problems in the best possible way. This is not intended as a detailed review of all books on this list (that would be a material for a book itself), rather a brief description and “why” each book made the list.

Without further due, here is the list in no particular order:

The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering
by Frederick P. Brooks Jr.

This is a timeless read on software project management. Fred Brooks was a project manager for the IBM System/360 computer family and later for OS/360. His advise on managing complex projects is as actual today as it was many years ago.
Why: Because so many refuse to believe that adding manpower to a late software project makes it later. The bearing of a child takes nine months, no matter how many women are assigned.

Programming Pearls
by Jon Bentley

Jon’s essays are an excellent introduction to thinking effectively about the challenges of software engineering. His “pearls” will challenge you to think like an engineer and show you how to solve problems effectively.
Why: The best tutorial for learning to think like a programmer.

Algorithms + Data Structures = Programs
by Niklaus Wirth

A classic read for every developer! This is where it all starts and once you begin there is no way back. The basics of algorithms and data structures exposed in a very easy to understand way. Recursion, sorting, B-trees, and hashing, it has it all!
Why: This book is the cornerstone of programming knowledge.

Code Complete: A Practical Handbook of Software Construction
by Steve McConnell

Steve McConnell managed to combine the research and academical knowledge with everyday commercial practices to one of the best practical guides to programming. It drills down to gems like minimizing complexity, collaboration, defensive programming, resolving issues, and much more.
Why: The first readable encyclopedia of best practices on software quality.

Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software
by Erich Gamma, Richard Helm, Ralph Johnson, John Vlissides

Regardless what programming technology you use, knowing object-oriented patterns and how to apply then is an invaluable tool to build applications. This is a classical collection of effective solutions to common problems. It shows great engineering that helps to improve re-usability and flexibility of code.
Why: The best way to start thinking about design patterns in object oriented way.

Refactoring: Improving the Design of Existing Code
by Martin Fowler, Kent Beck, John Brant, William Opdyke, Don Roberts

We are so often locked into the stone age old mantra “don’t fix it if it ain’t broken”. It is a fact that very few developers plan and spend time on regular basis to improve existing code. Tools, platforms and new algorithms evolve over time. This provides a huge opportunity to improve existing applications. This is the foundation of methods to apply refactoring.
Why: Because “don’t fix it if it ain’t broken” is a myth.

Introduction to Algorithms
by Thomas H. Cormen, Charles E. Leiserson, Ronald L. Rivest, Clifford Stein

The best book on algorithms! It covers the theory and implementation of algorithms, from classical to moderns and specific applications. Most important – it makes you think! Applying algorithms from any “cookbook” is easy, but this one helps you to learn and understand what makes and efficient algorithm.
Why: Algorithms are the foundation of learning to solve problems efficiently.

The Design of Everyday Things
by Donald A. Norman

Oh, no! What does this one has to do with software development? Everything! Software development is mostly about solving everyday problems. The same rules that apply to all things are applicable in every software product: make things visible, exploit natural relationships that couple function and control, and make intelligent use of constraints. Who doesn’t want to build applications that guide the user effortlessly to the right action on the right control at the right time?
Why: Simple solutions are all around us.

Steve Jobs
by Walter Isaacson

Regardless if you like Apple products or not, if you are fascinated by Steve Jobs or not, it is undeniable that he was the innovating force that pushed the computer industry (and beyond that) to new levels. Steve Jobs indeed was here to put a dent in the universe and everybody can learn something from this visionary. Creativity, passion, perfection – just a few works to describe his work.
Why: As Steve said: “stay hungry, stay foolish” and “We’re here to put a dent in the universe”.

The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World
by Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, Douglas Carlton Abrams

Coding is one of those obsessive activities that captivates our minds and letting go is a very difficult task. But one should always look around and see that there is a lot of joy in life, beyond the keyboard. The stories and wisdom of Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu drive deep into the world of love, happiness and joy. Finding fulfillment and purpose in life will bring more joy in your coding and bring more happiness to your customers.
Why: As Dalai Lama said: “What is the purpose of life? After much consideration, I believe that the purpose of life is to find happiness”.

Is this a comprehensive list? No, but this will give you a great foundation to become a master of engineering software products. As much as I was eager to include in this list books like Knuth’s “The Art of Computer Programming” (which is an advanced reading for those in the top 5 percentile of computer science world), or “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” (because everyone needs to know that 42 is the answer to the meaning of life, the universe, and everything), I intentionally dropped them from my top 10 list.

Here are some additional readings from my library, for those with passion to learn:

The Art of Computer Programming by Donald E. Knuth
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
The Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman to Master by Andrew Hunt, David Thomas
Clean Code: A Handbook of Agile Software Craftsmanship by Robert C. Martin
Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability by Steve Krug
Test Driven Development: By Example by Kent Beck
Patterns of Enterprise Application Architecture by Martin Fowler
Coders at Work by Peter Seibel
CODE by Charles Petzold
Extreme Programming Explained: Embrace Change by Kent Beck, Cynthia Andres
Peopleware by Demarco and Lister
Compilers: Principles, Techniques and Tools by Alfred V. Aho, Ravi Sethi and Jeffrey D. Ullman
Best Software Writing I by Joel Spolsky
Getting Real by 37 Signals
Rework by Jason Freid, David Heinemeier Hansson

Defensive Database Programming

Defensive programming is a much avoided topic by developers. Rushing to deliver features is almost always prioritized higher than spending time to defensively program code for robustness. Especially in the database world where this concept is much misunderstood. This is why it was real pleasure to read Alex Kuznetsov’s book "Defensive Database Programming with SQL Server".

Alex deals with this "inconvenient" topic using very practical approach. Instead of filling pages with theory and reasons why defensive programming is good, he dives right into simple examples from the daily work of every database professional. We have all seen (and ignored) many of these issues, but demonstrating how this affects our code and how simple it is to avoid these problems makes this book shine. It is not a complete catalog of defensive techniques, rather a good collection of examples to illustrate the need for defensive coding and applicable methods. It builds the mindset to think proactively and create robust solutions. 

The book includes coverage of the following topics: basic defensive technique, code vulnerabilities, changes to database objects, upgrades, reusing code, data integrity and constraints, error handling, concurrency.
In many ways this book reminds me of the classic work by Donald Norman on designing everyday things (The Design of Everyday Things), which in similar manner demonstrates how defensive design can prevent human errors.

In conclusion, "Defensive Database Programming with SQL Server" is a wonderful addition to the library of every database professional. It should be required reading for all SQL practitioners.