Do you wish you could avoid the pitfalls that many Software Engineers make early on in their career? Unfortunately there’s no substitute for personal experience, but learning from experts is the next best thing.

Reading through the experiences of people who have succeeded in Software Engineering can help you hone your craft. Combining the knowledge that you gain from these books and the expertise you pick up  in the real world is key to a long and successful career.

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Top Software Engineering Books to Read

Here are some of the best books about software engineering, for experts and beginners alike.

The Art of Computer Programming
Author: Donald Knuth

There are tons of books on computer programming and software engineering out there, but this one’s a classic. The popularity of the author proves that.

The content of the three editions goes far beyond just programming. It focuses on algorithms, which are at the heart of any complex computer system. The book also provides sufficient exercises to challenge your mind the way real software engineering conundrums would. One interesting feature is that the exercises are marked in terms of difficulty.

This book is particularly ideal for aspiring programmers who have an eye for detail. Knuth has himself said, “I’m obsessively detail oriented.” and this book is a testament to that.

Patterns of Enterprise Application Architecture, Reviews
Author: Martin Fowler

This book is immensely popular in the world of programming and software engineering. It explains the concepts of design patterns which are used in building applications. The best part about the book is the author’s writing style. The easy to understand language, explanations and the humorous touch make the book stand out among other texts for software engineers.

Even if you’re not an expert programmer, you can still learn from the examples provided in this book. It can assist in improving the high level design of applications. If you’re involved with the development of enterprise software applications, this book should be perfect for you.

Authors: Martin Fowler and Kent Beck

This book focuses on helping you improve the quality of existing code to become a faster, more efficient engineer. The book has two editions and the second edition has several key changes including some new coding examples. The target audience of Refactoring is beginners, so you’ll grasp the concepts even if you have limited software engineering experience. All technical jargon is explained in a clear way.

Fowler and Beck emphasise the importance of keeping code easy to understand and modify in the future. This is fundamental to good programming practice. Throwing light on the second edition of the book, Fowler reiterated that it is primarily for relatively new developers.

Introduction to Algorithms
Authors: Thomas H. Cormen, Charles E. Leiserson, Ronald Rivest and Clifford Stein

If algorithms are your cup of tea, this book should be considered a must read. From multithreaded algorithms, to polynomial-time algorithms and string matching, you’ll learn all there is to know about data structuring as it pertains to software engineering.

The first half of the book explains basic concepts. But the second half contains advanced topics that seasoned engineers will appreciate. Apart from learning fundamental algorithm topics, you can also cement your knowledge through the tests provided in the book. Additionally, the book gives a window into how algorithmic techniques translate into an actual workplace. This book is particularly helpful for those who are preparing for algorithm-related interviews.

You might find the book to be slightly expensive, but it’s worth every penny due to its extremely specialized content.

Clean Code
Author: Robert Cecil Martin

If you’re new to software engineering, then Clean Code will provide you with a solid foundation in best coding practices. More experienced programmers should also find some value, as this book will act as an excellent refresher.

Clean Code discusses various aspects of engineering, including testing, variable names, and functions. In addition, the book provides a clear set of rules to help new programmers develop good coding techniques from the very beginning.

Since the book is Java-centric, it can be slightly hard to follow for those who don’t have a good understanding of Java. Nevertheless, you can learn some invaluable lessons about functions, comments, formatting, error handling and boundaries if you go through the book thoroughly. This quote explains the author’s perspective: “To write clean code, you must first write dirty code and then clean it.”

Working Effectively with Legacy Code
Author: Michael Feathers

The material in this book has been taken from the author’s Object Mentor seminars. The chapters are not too lengthy, and engineers will appreciate that both Java and C++ are used for examples. After reading the book, you’ll be able to think about legacy code in a more structured manner.

The book also covers engineering topics related to the mechanics of software change. such as improving designs and fixing bugs. Most importantly, this book includes 24 dependency-breaking techniques, which is helpful when working with program elements in isolation.

Pragmatic Programmer
Author: Andy Hunt and Dave Thomas

Published in October 1999, Pragmatic Programmer continues to be an important part of the Software Engineering domain. The book is a collection of several years of experience compiled together in written form.

Although the book was published some time ago, it still remains relevant for engineers in any industry. Instead of emphasizing theoretical aspects, this book focuses on real world practices. The authors point out the challenges and issues faced by Software Engineers. They share life experiences and portray their diligence and expertise. Most aspiring developers will relate to the experiences of the authors.

Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams
Authors: Timothy Lister and Tom DeMarco

This book focuses more on the human aspect within software engineering teams. Authors Timothy Lister and Tom DeMarco share their real life experience as they explore the reasons why large scale projects can fail.

The basic idea is that in order for engineers to work efficiently, several human factors must be perfectly balanced. Aspects like work environment, schedules, deadlines and work opportunities all factor into the success of a project.

The book is divided into 6 parts:

  1. Managing the Human Resource
  2. The Office Environment
  3. The Right People
  4. Growing Productive Teams
  5. Fertile Soil
  6. It's Supposed to Be Fun to Work Here

With lots of real world examples, the book provides valuable insights for correct management techniques and team building strategies.

Programming Pearls
Author: Jon Bentley

This book addresses several aspects of software engineering such as data structures, debugging, and algorithms. The content is well structured and each section starts by mentioning an engineering problem, then expands to provide solutions to that problem.

Programming Pearls contains real life experiences of author Jon Bentley. There are some excellent chapters covering his work as a professional Software Engineer.

The book is suitable for engineers of any level and particularly good for those interested in algorithm development.

Code Complete
Author: Steve McConnell

At 800 pages, this book contains a wealth of information and holds an important place in the field of Software Engineering.

Code Complete is primarily focused on software development activities. Towards the end of the first chapter, McConnell highlights the significance of construction in software development and writes, “Your understanding of how to do construction determines how good of a programmer you are.”

The book also includes some good practical advice on software design. You’ll learn about the importance of laying the right foundations for your project. It’s a must read for all aspiring developers.

Reading Software Engineering Books is Just the Beginning

That concludes our list of software engineering books. Hopefully they’ll provide you with a solid introduction to software engineering, and the many aspects involved in this exciting career path..

Books are great, but can only go so far in your education. If you really want to springboard your learning, then consider an online software engineering course. You’ll benefit from a comprehensive, career-ready curriculum. You’ll also enjoy the support of professional one-on-one mentoring, with the aim of ultimately getting hired as a Software Engineer.

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