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Ask Slashdot: What Should Every Programmer Read?

Soulskill posted about 3 months ago | from the green-eggs-and-dereferenced-pointers dept.

Programming 352

An anonymous reader writes "There's a blog post floating around right now listing articles every programmer should read. I'm curious what articles, books, etc., Slashdot readers would add to this list. Should The Art of Computer Programming, Design Patterns, or Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs be on the list? What about The Mythical Man-Month, or similar works that are about concepts relating to programming? Is there any code that every programmer should take a look at? Obviously, the nature of this question precludes articles about the nitty-gritty of particular languages, but I'm sure a lot of people would be interested in those, too. So if you can think of a few articles that every C++ programmer (or Perl, or Haskell, or whatever) should know, post those too."

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This (-1, Troll)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | about 3 months ago | (#47004099)

Every programmer should read THIS. :-)

Re:This (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47004279)

Slashdot? Then no one will get any work done!

Re:This (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47004667)

Work? We are programmers. We abhor work.

Re:This (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47004517)

I'm sure I'm not alone. This type of "article" seems to come up every other week.

What is a good read about programming?
If I want to get into programming, which language should I start with?
If I want to get my child into programming, where should I start?
Should schools push teaching programming?
Can I get a programming job with two semesters of classes done?
I've programmed for my whole life, can I learn a new language?

Isn't the rule of thumb for answers to headline questions to be "No"?

Seriously. Make a roulette wheel, spin it, then type the language it falls on followed by "tutorial" into google and start following directions.

War and Peace. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47004109)

As a sysadmin, I find programmers generally can't read documentation. I sympathize, because let's face it, we on the other side ignore programmer-written documentation just as often.

So read War and Peace.

TFM that you should R will be no challenge whatsoever afterward.

The Joy of C (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47004117)

It's rather out of date but "The Joy of C" was my first programming book and I attest its style to easing me in to the development mindset.

The Fortran Coloring Book (4, Interesting)

davidwr (791652) | about 3 months ago | (#47004323)

I wish I'd read Roger Kaufman's book before I started programming. It would've helped a lot.

Here's a few pages to get a taste of the style: []

A Fortran Coloring Book (1)

davidwr (791652) | about 3 months ago | (#47004377)

Gack wrong title.

Books to read (5, Informative)

Dionysus (12737) | about 3 months ago | (#47004133)

Clean Code by Robert C. Martin, Working Effectively with legacy code by Michael C. Feathers, Refactoring by Fowler, Design Patterns by the gang of four. If you are a C++ programmer, anything by Sutter or Meyers.

Re:Books to read (1)

turgid (580780) | about 3 months ago | (#47004161)

The winner of this thread.

Re:Books to read (1)

sleekware (1109351) | about 3 months ago | (#47004195)

Design Patterns by the gang of four.

Beat me to it! I second this...

Re:Books to read (4, Insightful)

AuMatar (183847) | about 3 months ago | (#47004379)

The problem with that book is that too many people read it the wrong way. Instead of using it as a language to describe design, they attempt to find ways to force their code into patterns or to add patterns because they think they should use them. The result is worse code than if they had never read it. This is especially true of those who read the book before they've seen enough code to understand design. It should be read, but only at the proper time and in the proper way.

Re:Books to read (1)

Jahf (21968) | about 3 months ago | (#47004293)

Thanks for a good thread to the OP and reply from you :)

I'm recently on disability and plan to use what time I can sit at a desk to be the back-end programmer for my wife's web site (she has a brick and mortar art gallery, so online presence is important but not a full time or even regular part time job). I spent a few years hacking Perl scripts up for web sites in the 90s but since then let what little I have self-taught rot in my brain. This subject is one I was ready to post, but in the vein of purely unpaid hobby work. It will be useful

Re:Books to read (2)

radtea (464814) | about 3 months ago | (#47004305)

Excellent suggestions all. I would add:

1) "Software Failure: Management Failure" by Stephen Flowers (somewhat dated, but an excellent collection of case studies of failed projects... technologies change but the lessons learned remain relevant.)

2) "Rapid Development" by Myers. The chapter on estimation alone is worth the price.

TFM (4, Funny)

NIK282000 (737852) | about 3 months ago | (#47004137)

Everybody should RTFM.

True Names... and Other Dangers. (1)

mfarah (231411) | about 3 months ago | (#47004141)

No list is complete without Vernor Vinge's _True Names... and Other Dangers_. I don't care if it's a book, instead of an article, but still, it's required reading.

"How to Write a WINNING Resume" (1)

JoeyRox (2711699) | about 3 months ago | (#47004145)

And "How to Write a KILLER LinkedIn Profile... And 18 Mistakes to Avoid", both by Brenda Bernstein.

Obviously... (4, Funny)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 3 months ago | (#47004153)

An arbitrarily long strip of tape, divided into sections on which there appear symbols drawn from some finite alphabet. They should be able to work the rest out from that.

Re:Obviously... (4, Funny)

VortexCortex (1117377) | about 3 months ago | (#47004607)

They should be able to work the rest out from that.

Actually, you can't make such a generalized determination. Surely some of them will halt.

Code Complete (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47004157)

Code Complete is the #1 thing every programmer should read.

Re:Code Complete (1)

gweihir (88907) | about 3 months ago | (#47004269)

Never read it, and decided to better stay away after perusing reviews.

George Orwell (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47004165)

"Politics and the English Language", George Orwell.

Should be required reading for everyone not just programmers.

If you haven't read The Myythical Man-Month... (4, Insightful)

Troy Baer (1395) | about 3 months ago | (#47004185) don't get to call yourself a "software engineer" or talk about others' software engineering practices.

Re:If you haven't read The Myythical Man-Month... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47004233)

Noo, I havven'tt readd thatt onee...

Re:If you haven't read The Myythical Man-Month... (5, Informative)

gweihir (88907) | about 3 months ago | (#47004251)

Nonsense. The Mythical Man-Month is mostly about team-building, project management and a bit about software architecture. It has almost no software engineering content. Sure, it is a highly valuable source, but not a software-engineering one.

Re:If you haven't read The Myythical Man-Month... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47004589)

I've called myself a software engineer and haven't read it.

Re:If you haven't read The Myythical Man-Month... (3, Interesting)

VortexCortex (1117377) | about 3 months ago | (#47004639)

No need. The "Mythical Man Month" is merely a series of special cases of the law of diminishing returns and/or The Planning Fallacy. []

It's much more efficient to say: "Too many chiefs and not enough braves is bad, and it will always take longer than expected."

If you haven't read The Myythical Man-Month... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47004645)

No need to worry, we'll get off your lawn...

Re:If you haven't read The Myythical Man-Month... (2)

bobbied (2522392) | about 3 months ago | (#47004779) don't get to call yourself a "software engineer" or talk about others' software engineering practices.

Excellent book, but the software engineer who is just writing code doesn't need it, in fact they might not want to if they don't have good managers. Now if you MANAGE a project or other software engineers, THEN you should read this book every few years.

The Little Schemer (1)

atarzwell (1111137) | about 3 months ago | (#47004187)

The little schemer series, (The Little Schemer, The Seasoned Schemer and The Reasoned Schemer) Daniel Friedman

Even if you never intent to use a lisp, it's worth reading. [] [] []

The Art of Computer Programming (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47004199)

I have a copy of the first three volumes of TAoCP and have skimmed parts of it. I've occasionally opened it as a reference source (for example, on PRNGs), but I wouldn't claim to have "read" it. People who do are likely either hardcore computer scientists or bullshitters [] .

Re:The Art of Computer Programming (1)

retchdog (1319261) | about 3 months ago | (#47004635)

eh, they're not that hard to read. doing all of the problems would be another story (especially the ones that are open research questions... :-/), but for the content the presentation is amazingly straightforward (this is the real accomplishment of Knuth). i casually read vol. 1 and did ~25% of the problems one summer with a friend.

that linked story is hilarious, though.

Other Programmers Comments (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47004209)

They're there for a reason.

K&R (3, Insightful)

ericloewe (2129490) | about 3 months ago | (#47004215)

The C Programming Language, so they learn how to properly document their work.

Re:K&R (1)

dfsmith (960400) | about 3 months ago | (#47004439)

K&R was an excellent introduction (short, expensive, valuable). However, I think I learned more about the why of C from reading Harbison & Steele, "C, A Reference Manual". It was a book for compiler implementers and programmers, and went into some of the design decisions, which really helped my comprehension.

Re:K&R (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47004579)

Indeed, H&S is the standard for C books. For a lighter read, `Expert C Programming' by Peter van Linden is another good C resource. Finally, `The new C standard: a cultural commentary' (actually a cultural and ... I forgot) is superb!

Re:K&R (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47004451)

Back then it was brilliant. By today's standards it's just plain awful.

There are no things every programmer should read (3, Insightful)

gweihir (88907) | about 3 months ago | (#47004217)

Paradigms, styles, approaches are different. There is no "central" body of things that can capture this. Even absolute classics like "Goto considered harmful" can be misleading and counter-productive to read unless the reader can supply the right context. That said, every programmer should always work to understand his or her craft better and broaden their view. That includes reading about insights other people have had into the process.

Re:There are no things every programmer should rea (1)

machineghost (622031) | about 3 months ago | (#47004355)

But how do they get "the right context" without knowing what to read?

Text Encoding (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47004229)

Absolutely! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47004553)

I cannot possibly provide enough support for this reference! I just posted the same thing: []

This is absolutely mandatory! I do not care what kind of code you write or what language you use. If you write code, you need to read this.

Everything (1)

Kittenman (971447) | about 3 months ago | (#47004231)

Programmers maybe write reasonable code - but they often cannot express their ideas in ordinary language. Read the paper, George Orwell, 'Clean Code', Slashdot, whatever - and practice writing too. And talk to people. If they look puzzled, you're not communicating well, and need to get better. Use grammar. Write clean, accurate comments.

(Quick scan to make sure that this is clean... well, good enough...)

Should read A Game of Thrones (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47004239)

You never know when the Lannisters will turn on you.

Dilbert. (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47004243)


Re:Dilbert. (1)

bobbied (2522392) | about 3 months ago | (#47004795)


That was my first idea too..

Missing Option (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47004255)

I don't read books! Seriously though, I just don't enjoy reading books.

Appreciate where you are (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47004261)

By seeing how it used to be.

It won't hurt you to read about hardware, I promise!

Real Programmers Don't Use PASCAL (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47004271)

Two unexpected computer science books (4, Insightful)

bugnuts (94678) | about 3 months ago | (#47004299)

I'm gazing across my bookshelf full of O Reilly books, Knuth's series, TCP/IP Illustrated, and others... but the most important books are more mundane:

Godel Escher Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid, and Alice in Wonderland

Both of these books encompass the thinking and mindset which will make you a better programmer by planting the seed of logic, states, and recursion, and nourishing the hell out of it. It will massage the pathways to make someone actually want to be a programmer.

Hitch Hikers Guide To The Galaxy (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47004303)

Can't think of anything else that 'every' programmer should read. All programmers are different, what would benefit someone who writes C for embedded systems might bore a WPF developer to pieces and not benefit him or her one bit. So might as well read something funny.

The Bible (0, Offtopic)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | about 3 months ago | (#47004313)

with a good commentary to explain the historical, cultural context needed to understand certain sections well.

Programming is a fun and rewarding way to earn a living. But it's not the most important thing.

Re:The Bible (-1, Offtopic)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | about 3 months ago | (#47004455)

Oh, and... normal disclaimer about me knowing I'll be modded into oblivion, of course.

Facts and Fallacies of Software Engineering (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47004361)

By Robert Glass

Beta (0)

Tablizer (95088) | about 3 months ago | (#47004395)

Study Slashdot Beta so you know what not to do.

It's simple (3, Insightful)

viperidaenz (2515578) | about 3 months ago | (#47004399)


This is in addition to ... (1)

davidwr (791652) | about 3 months ago | (#47004407)

... the top 10 books/articles/whatever that every human being should read.

Now if only we could get some kind of agreement on what those "top 10" are.

Effective C++ (1)

phimpshiex (1388449) | about 3 months ago | (#47004411)

Here's my two cents:
- Effective C++: 55 Specific Ways to Improve Your Programs
- Code Complete
- Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software

I thought we already knew the answer (3, Insightful)

roc97007 (608802) | about 3 months ago | (#47004413)

"The best book on programming for the layman is Alice in Wonderland, but that's because it's the best book on anything for the layman."

        - Alan Perlis, "Epigrams on Programming", ACM SIGPLAN Notices 17 (9), September 1982, pp. 7–13

Answer to title (3, Insightful)

O('_')O_Bush (1162487) | about 3 months ago | (#47004465)

Code. Lots and lots of code. Code from diverse sources, understanding the problems, understanding the solutions. Programming books/articles offer nice ideas, philosophies, anecdotes, whatever, but nothing will improve programming skill more than experience. Reading code, IMO, and at least for me, increases that experience much more than writing it or reading the meta about programming.

Books Ive recently read (2)

petur (1833384) | about 3 months ago | (#47004471)

The Psychology of Computer Programming, by Weinberg. Its from 1971 but still relevant. It tackles the management aspect of working in a team, how to handle difficult people etc. Clean Code, a great book for those interested in adopting a better coding style. Are your routines longer than 5 lines? Wrestling With Bears , goes into details about how to mitigate risk, evaluate and prioritize requirements and keep your projects on track. Test Driven iOS Development. Cocoa Design Patterns (if your an iOS developer); it really helps to understand what is happening under the hood of the API. Software Engineering by Ian Sommerville, for those interested in design, architecture and large systems. Its a rather long and very traditional (not agile friendly), but its comprehensive and good. Someone already mentioned K&R, I'd add C++ by Bjarne Stroustrump. Agile and Iterative Development: A Manager's Guide. Its not really a "managers guide", but more of a "How can I be a good team player" with an introduction on XP/UP and Scrum kind of a guide. Highly recommented.

A couple of classics (2)

stargazer1sd (708392) | about 3 months ago | (#47004489)

That's a good list of subject areas, and articles for technical areas, but if you're going to be an effective programmer, you need to venture out a bit. There are a couple of good books by Gerald Weinberg that will change the way you look at your profession. First is The Psychology of Computer Programming. It's a bit long in the tooth, but the lessons are still relevant. Same goes for Quality Software Management, Volume 1. Be warned, QSM, in particular, will make you dissatisfied with your managers.

Read General books on Management (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47004491)

It will help you better understand your bosses concerns. And some day that's where you will be as technology laps you and you go from being a nerd to a person supporting a family where money means more than technology.

I intend to be a manager before I am 50. 10-15 years of not having to think out technical problems and I'll be making more money. It's win/win.

Read The Art of Computer Programming vol 1-4A (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47004501)

from cover to cover, then get back to me.

I'll wait.

There ain't no such thing as plain text. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47004503)

There Ain't No Such Thing As Plain Text. []

For the love of all that is holy, every person who ever writes a line of code anywhere, for any purpose, must read this! No exceptions!

There Ain't No Such Thing As Plain Text. []

A book on Hindi? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47004505)

How about a book on Hindi so you can communicate with your boss and offshored co-workers at 2:00 AM in the morning, then train the H-1B who is going to be your replacement so you get a severance package?

Realistically, K&R's C book is a classic worth looking at. Defensive programming, and programming with security in mind are also important texts.

Watership Down (1)

Petersko (564140) | about 3 months ago | (#47004511)

You gotta disconnect from the tech every once in a while.

Re:Watership Down (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47004625)

my Fav

Re:Watership Down (1)

bobbied (2522392) | about 3 months ago | (#47004831)

You gotta disconnect from the tech every once in a while.

Yikes, How does reading about a litter of talking rabbits help you with that? Do they have a kindle version?

How to Break Web Software: Functional and Security (1)

peterofoz (1038508) | about 3 months ago | (#47004569)

This should be required reading for any programming putting software on the web. It details some 50 basic vulnerabilities that must be avoided. Its also a good starting point for the Q/A team and test planning.

Dale Carnegie (3, Insightful)

russotto (537200) | about 3 months ago | (#47004593)

"How to Win Friends and Influence People". Not for the advice; as a geek type you'll likely never be able to pull it off anyway. But in the spirit of knowing thy enemy; when the sales and marketing and pointy-haired businessmen try to manipulate you, you'll recognize the techniques and be able to put a source to them.

Infinite Jest (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47004599)

to superinflate the already universe-busting ego of the average computer programmer

The Little Schemer (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47004615)

Fun and will teach you to "think" like a programmer. Plus LISP! FTW!

The Design of Everyday Things (2)

rmccoy (318169) | about 3 months ago | (#47004617)

I see some good suggestions on how to code well but it's important to know how to produce human interfaces that are understandable, effective and even fun.

For that, my favorite book is "The Design of Everyday Things." It's not about software design, it let's you see effective (and bad!) design all around you and will make you think about your own designs. The affordances, or clues, you provide on how things work without having to spell it out in documentation.

Good programming is just the start. Good problem solving is the goal.

If this is about articles, (2)

Beck_Neard (3612467) | about 3 months ago | (#47004629)

Then I suggest every programmer read every single one of the posts on this site: [] . The author has a remarkably clear head about things and a very mature outlook on programming.

half your job will be people not computers (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47004661)

You should read about dealing with people as well as programming. Read "Crucial Conversations"

Something with this title (2)

YrWrstNtmr (564987) | about 3 months ago | (#47004669)

"How to not fuck up"

It hasn't been written yet, but it needs to be written.
There are many that say 'how to do x'. But few/none that say 'How to not fuck up'. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47004671)


Chip spec, Op Codes, Compiler Impl. At least once. (1)

VortexCortex (1117377) | about 3 months ago | (#47004683)

I'll just leave this free and open source CS101 course here: NAND to Tetris. []

Martin Fowler's Refactoring (1)

acroyear (5882) | about 3 months ago | (#47004687)

No, in spite of what some jackasses say, it isn't just rewriting for its own sake. It is improving the structure in standardized ways so that you can add your new features much more safely. In interviews, I prefer people can name some standard refactorings before I ask them the typical questions about design patterns. []

Strunk & White: The Elements of Style (5, Interesting)

RandCraw (1047302) | about 3 months ago | (#47004701)

The best preparation for becoming a good programmer (or scientist or engineer) is to learn how to organize your thoughts and then address only what is necessary and sufficient to accomplish a given task.

I know no book that teaches clarity of thought better than Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style". Clear writing and great coding share a common wellspring.

Secrets of Consulting (1)

ech3 (88098) | about 3 months ago | (#47004709)

The Secrets of Consulting: A Guide to Giving and Getting Advice Successfully by Gerald M. Weinberg
It has a lot of little anecdotes that help you recall concepts of how to manage your own time. Things like Rudy's law of Rutabaga stick with me even though I haven't picked up the book in a while. I read this book based on someone's recommendation on /. a long time ago, and I am glad I did.

The Unix Philosophy (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47004719)

The UNIX Philosophy by Mike Gancarz is a great book. It is specifically applicable to understanding unix. But, it is broadly applicable for anyone developing software. Understanding how to build small reusable components that can be strung together well. It is also a short book, and thus a very easy read. So, it belongs on the list of books every program should read. You get a lot of bang for your buck.

Code Complete by Steve McConnell (4, Informative)

Hangtime (19526) | about 3 months ago | (#47004737)

My boss gave me this book when I started by my first job out of college. By far one of the best books on software development and construction out there. It is timeless and even though I no longer write code for a living, I refer back to it on many occasions still. You want a book to make a you a better programmer; you can't go wrong here.

Re:Code Complete by Steve McConnell (1)

SJrX (703334) | about 3 months ago | (#47004827)

Yes this book (the 2nd Edition) is indeed something everyone should read. As is The Pragmatic Programmer, Gang of Four Design Patterns ( but initially I found it a bit terse, so Head First Design Pattern was a good initial grounding for OO), as well as whatever seminal books there are for your language of choice. For instance Effective C++ or Effective Java.

"Code Complete" by Steve McConnell (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47004745)

Whereas other programming books are filled with conjecture and opinion ("I think this" or "I think that"), Steve McConnell went out and did the hard work of researching what actually works, then providing actual citations for everything he found. Following the guidelines and tactics in this book is like adding 10 years of experience to your programming skills. This book is a masterpiece in the field of programming.

A Game of Thrones (2, Funny)

jfdavis668 (1414919) | about 3 months ago | (#47004747)

Spoiler, everybody dies

Must reads (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47004755)

All the novels of Jacqueline Suzanne (one of the giants).

"Atlas Shrugged" by Ayn Rand.

And THIS [] .

How To Win Friends and Influence People (1)

clockwise_music (594832) | about 3 months ago | (#47004763)

"How To Win Friends and Influence People" By Dale Carnegie.

A classic, every programmer (and person) should read it.

Good one (1)

Subratik (1747672) | about 3 months ago | (#47004773)

"What every programmer should know about floating point math"

GEB (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47004783)


Fyodor Dostoyevsky - Crime and Punishment (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47004787)

Fyodor Dostoyevsky - Crime and Punishment
So they feel guilty about their crappy code

Optimizing C++ from (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47004793)

Optimizing C++ [] was an eye-opener for me because it isn't just about how to optimize C++ but more about how things actually work (in the real world).

How about reading your code? (5, Insightful)

NemoinSpace (1118137) | about 3 months ago | (#47004803)

After a year i go back and realize what a horrible programmer i am. It happens every year. But i'm getting better. I also spend a lot of time reading other people's code. I've found that if you are writing "new" code you haven't already seen in action, you just might wind up killing somone someday.

most importanly, (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47004819)

Capital, Volume 1

Going by some of the software out there (1)

FuzzNugget (2840687) | about 3 months ago | (#47004821)

Their own code

Revised report (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47004823)

Revised report on the algorithmic language ALGOL 60

So everyone should just take some basic CS classes (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47004835)

Basic CS courses @ a university should cover this stuff, at least in Europe.

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