Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Top 10 Software Development Books for Beginners

This topic has been boiling inside of me for quite some time now. In fact, ever since I hired my first employee in my first job in Asia. I've been always reading a lot of books – even when I had no money I would spend Sundays in MPH or Kinokuniya :-). Even though I've had Safari Books Online subscription like forever (actually since my master's degree thesis) hardly a month goes by that I wouldn't buy a new book.

Anyway, my problem is to select a “reasonable” number of books for my new employees / trainees to read so as to give them essential (really basic and necessary) information and still not overload them to the point when the loose the sight of why they're doing it. Here I must point out that 99% of all people I've interviewed and around the same percentage of people I eventually hired had never read (and pretty much never heard of) any of my top 10 essential books. Most of those were computer science graduates from Singapore, Malaysia, Germany, India, Slovakia, Myanmar, etc.

The books to start with are especially tricky because of a different learning style for different people. Another issue is to avoid (or undo) possible bad habits. I may not be able to stress this enough...but this is realy not about book "reading". Our orientation process means working with those books daily - working out the examples, trying them in different languages and putting the concepts to work first on testing projects and later on real projects.

Put together, Top 10 that my employees / trainees have to bite through looks like this:

1) Test Driven Development by Kent Beck – this is definitely the first and the last book of software development for me. I think without this book made all the agile methodology possible and it pretty much defined way of programming today.

2) Learn To Program by Chris Pine - this is quite a recent addition – in May 2006 when it was clear that most of our development had moved from Java to Ruby, this book replaced Head First Java by Kathy Sierra and Bert Bates. It may sound a bit strange to include an actual programming book so early in the process but it sort of provides a tool or media for further learning.

3) Head First Object-Oriented Analysis and Design by Brett McLaughlin, Gary Pollice, David West - what the hack took you so long guys? This book finally filled in the spot shared by several books on OOP. Even though OOP has been a standard for more than 20 years I still find it one of the most difficult part for people to understand. I even like that the book uses Java for all the examples, because doing those examples in Ruby gives you plenty of opportunity to see Java and Ruby code side by side and to really see the differences between dynamic and static languages.

4) Head First HTML with CSS & XHTML by Elisabeth Freeman, Eric Freeman - what to say...after real hard work with book no 3 this one reads like a comic book. It's really a pleasure to read and I would make it required reading for all web designers.

5) Head First Databases – by I wish Unfortunately, this spot is still open. At this point I would need some down to earth, fun to read, easy to understand non-reference database book. Please let me know if you know of anything

6) Agile Web Development with Rails by Dave Thomas and David Heinemeier Hansson We're getting serious :-). For some of you it may seem like a long time to wait but only around this point I usually feel that my new hires are ready to not only understand but to really appreciate the beauty of rails. With rails simplicity and generators (we use custom made generators that generate pretty much everything besides the business logic) it's just way too easy to slip to monkey coding without actually understanding it.

7) Pragmatic Version Control: Using Subversion (SE) by Mike Mason Again something that universities (and many small companies) should look into. Nothing else to say...required reading.

8) Extreme Programming Explained (SE) by Kent Beck It's really hard to understand and appreciate this book without at some working experience. Everything seems so obvious and natural and yet it's so rarely done that way. At least around this part of the world. Most of the time I hear people say that Asian boss wouldn't approve of agile principle, that Asian boss wouldn't stand two people sharing a computer, but in my experience that's rarely the case. More about it in some other blog...

9. Refactoring by Martin Fowler - after having written some code, you're ready to change it. This book provides not only solutions to common code smells but it also helps you to train your nose for those smells.

10. Beyond Software Architecture: Creating and Sustaining Winning Solutions by Luke Hohmann - this may be a little different from the rest, but it very nicely sums up all the 'other' questions regarding software development and actual deployment. Even though it's not platform specific some sections would deserve a small update...but overall a very complete reference. that's my top 10 learn to program (business applications) list. If you didn't find your favourite in there don't worry - it's most probably because this list is meant for beginers. In fact, I cannot believe how much this list changed since only year and a half ago.

what's next? My intermediate top 10 will follow soon :-)


  1. It's been 3 years. What do you recommend now for beginners? Thanks.

  2. Hey Kyle you can find various books, videos and articles relating to software development for beginners over my Software Engineering Books link.