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Book Recommendations!

austinhardaway profile image Austin Hardaway ・6 min read

So I don't know if this will resonate with anyone else, but high school 100% killed all motivation to read books for me. As a kid I loved to read and I read during almost every free moment. Cue high school (or maybe junior high?) and suddenly teachers are telling me to read and what to read. Sudden stop. College wasn't any better. I mean I read for class (most of the time) but only the bare minimum and never for personal reasons.

Last year I decided to reacquaint myself with the idea of reading for enjoyment. Now that no one is telling me to read and after getting back in the habit I really enjoy it. So I thought in honor of those resolved to read in the new year, I thought I'd give some hot takes on some of the books I read in the yesteryear.

Admittedly there is a theme here. My path back into reading was computer history. I always wanted to take a computer history course in school and never did, and It's a topic I'm really interested in. I like to think it helps me see this moment in tech where I've started my career as a period that makes sense in a larger perspective. Would love to hear some thoughts of engineers who have been in industry for a lot longer!

The Soul of a New Machine

Can't take credit for this recommendation that honor goes to the one and only @jessfraz. In any case it is a wonderful read that really ignites a feeling of nostalgia for a time when the PC was a just a twinkle in the eye of an engineer. It is the story of a reporter looking in on an engineering team as they design, build, and test a new minicomputer. It's a story of internal company politics, motivating a team of engineers, and perseverance through the grind of setbacks. If you've done any professional engineering work this will resonate with you. If you've never done any and you want to know what it's like here is an (admittedly rose-tinted) example. Personally I felt extremely vindicated that some of the issues I encountered as an intern were brought up and that I was not the only one feeling them. As a matter of fact people have been feeling them for decades. Anyone who does anything in a technical field with a team should read this IMO.

A People's History of Computing in the United States

Riffing on Zimmerman's Peoples History of the United States. (An interesting read in it's own right.) This is the history of the start of computing in the US, from the perspective of the so often marginalized players. This is the story of Time Sharing and the people who formed the first computer communities. Spoiler alert-- It wasn't just white males from Stanford. This is a great look at the expansion of a computing culture that includes the voices of the women and students that used the first time sharing systems, formed the first digital communities, and wrote the code that made it happen. Too often the idea of a history of computers is the detailing of the Steve Jobs of the world stealing from the XEROX Parcs of the world.

This more academic entry to the list was well appreciated for adding the voices and stories that are unlike my own to my picture of my industry. And though this title is in premise a look at marginalized people in Tech, and it is. In an odd way this title also leaves a taste of nostalgia for the way things were.

Coders: The Making of a New Tribe and the Remaking of the World

I actually picked this book up at a Books-A-Million while waiting on my brakes to get fixed one rainy afternoon. I began reading with a very small picture of what it was about and barely put it down for the next several days. This one is rather unlike the others.

If A Peoples History made me think of stories and peoples that were not like me. This is the opposite. And by that I mean a related so hard to almost every story presented in this book. Thompson interviews prominent people in the industry to paint a picture of what 'coder culture' is.

This is a very affirming read for me. So many times during this read I found myself thinking: 'Wow, I totally do that and know people that do it also'.

It's also on the opposite end of computing history, instead of talking about BASIC and the Rise of time sharing, it's the post dot com big players. And if you follow the same twitter accounts I do then many of the names wouldn't be new to you. Good easy read.

Mythical Man Month

"The only useful book I read in college" - Cameron Howe (Halt and Catch Fire)

MMM on the surface, is a collection of essays on software engineering as a profession. While relatively light on tips and tricks revolving around the actual implementation of code, this book focuses on the more professional aspects. Managing a team with expectations and different visions. How to deal with a late project. How to focus on code integrity without sacrificing the timeline. Little gems of wisdom. MMM on the surface, is a collection of essays on software engineering as a profession. While relatively light on tips and tricks revolving around the actual implementation of code, this book focuses on the more professional aspects. Managing a team with expectations and different visions. How to deal with a late project. How to focus on code integrity without sacrificing the timeline. Little gems of wisdom.

Almost more intriguing than the wisdom offered, is how it's written. Many passages from this classic entry will literally give you goosebumps and motivate you in ways that software is not known to do.

If you are only going to read one book on this list, this is the one. 10/10 it's a timeless classic. The Moby Dick of Software

CODE

Code is a book about, yep you guessed it, code. And by that I mean encodings for the most part. Starting with the idea of encoding in it's simplest form and moving all the way to some pretty impressive discrete mathematics. Now it's not a discrete maths textbook. I found it a little light on some of the practice you would find in such a text. This is the Neil Degrasse Tyson pop-science astrophysics book for discrete math. Right at the intersection of wow this is cool and wow I don't care-- a line the author walks beautifully.

I enjoyed this as a return to the basics, a look at code that really truly starts from first principles and builds all the way up. This would be a huge jump start on the curriculum for most would-be Computer Science majors (With just enough detail to let you know what you're in for). As well as great gap finder for those folks with non-traditional educations or anyone who thinks they could benefit from a tighter grasp of computer theory.

In closing books are great and we should all read some more of them! These are some that I would recommend to anyone on this site. What about y'all?

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