Friday, April 10, 2009

What's on My Bookshelf

What's on my bookshelf? That is usually a good question, especially when it comes to software developers and people starting out... but my current answer is "nothing". Of course, before people get the impression that I hate books, or can't read, or such, I should probably clarify things. A little while back we had a bit of a problem with our house. Luckily no people were harmed... but this is what our shelves ended up looking like.

That's right, we had a wee bit of a problem with a house fire. As I mentioned, all people were OK, but the contents were totaled... including the few software books I owned. Oh, and our inkjet printer that was halfway across the house didn't fare too well either. (I never knew they made printers out of spaghetti).

However, in talking with some potential Google Summer of Code students over at Cal State LA the subject came up. It is a good one, and very helpful even to programmers who have been out of school for a while. First off, I should point out that I am not one who buys nor reads many technical books. It started off originally from not having much money, so books were a luxury (well, technical ones... books just for reading are a necessity). By the time I could buy more, I didn't really want to since books on programming tend to be out of date so quickly nowadays. And for the most part, I could get detailed and more specific information from the Internet.

The following books, though, should be read by anyone working on software:

"The Mythical Man-Month" - Frederick P. Brooks Jr. (anniversary edition)
ISBN 0-201-83595-9
The granddaddy of them all. Although first published in 1975 it is still very applicable today. The abstract concepts were found and present well and hold up more than a quarter century later. Be sure to track down the anniversary edition with "No Silver Bullet" in it. It also helps that this is a fairly thin book, so one can actually read it. (Admit it, not many of you pour through gigantic tomes. or at least not to the detail to which they deserve)

"Code Complete" - Steve McConnell
ISBN 978-1556154843 First edition (1993)
ISBN 978-0735619678 Second edition (June 2004)
Big fat textbook on software coding. This one is huge, but well worth the read. Also it has already been distilled down to the essentials, so don't skim through it. Definitely one to be taken a chapter at a time. My personal feeling is that this very savvy person set out to write the definitive textbook on software construction and nailed it. This one also is chock full of studies, statistics and citations.

"Agile Software Development with Scrum" - Ken Schwaber, Mike Beedle
ISBN 978-0-735-61993-7
This, I think, is a number one "must read", second only to The Mythical Man-Month (and in slight contrast to Code Complete, which is a "must slog through"). The key here is that it explains why the software industry has gotten its process almost completely wrong. Waterfall is broken and can't work, etc. It also points out how to make a software development process that actually works. I've been on teams that have brought this into companies both large and small, and it works. Very well. Also it is a very thin book, so all should be able to read it. However, if some of you don't want to actually track down and read a book made of actual paper, the first chapter is available online as "Get Ready for Scrum". (Just be sure to read all 8 pages, since the online article lists it as 7. Don't miss that last page)

"Extreme Programming Explained: Embrace Change" - Kent Beck
For those who know of extreme programming, there is a tendency to either hate it or love it (if you hate it, then you don't "get" it). However, I am surprised at how many people I meet nowadays who aren't familiar with it. (I guess they don't get the joke of Microsoft renaming Windows 2000++ to be "XP" either). Anyway, this is a very good book and even manages to weave in citations of both anthropological studies of the 60s and Spinal Tap. When understood and put into practice correctly, I believe that XP practices (Beck's, not Microsoft's) lead to very high productivity. However it is easy to get them wrong, and I believe that even the book "Extreme Programming Implemented" in the same series misses the mark on some things, including pair programming. Again, this is a relatively thin, so no excuses for not reading it.

"Rapid Development" - Steve McConnell
Another good tome by Steve McConnell. Whereas Code Complete focuses on actually writing code, this one focuses on managing a software project. Quite handy, but again one to take a single chapter at a time.

"Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams" - Demarco & Lister
ISBN 0-932633-43-9
This is a bit of an older book, but very handy for team leads, managers, etc. Also is a thin book, so no excuse...

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