Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Classics of Computer Literature

Although the main focus of this blog is DB2 and mainframe software, I thought it would be worthwhile to take some time to recommend a few classic books for computer professionals. I am an avid reader of all kinds of books, not only on technology but on a wide variety of topics. Periodically I will use my blog to extol the virtues of some of my favorite books.

I'm starting with computer books as everyone reading this is probably in the field of IT. (...except maybe my Mom, hi Mom!) These books are not DBMS- or data-focused: I will recommend data and database books later, in some future blog posting.

So, here goes, my coverage of a nice starter set of 4 computer books that everyone should read...

Every computer professional should own a copy of Frederick P. Brooks Jr.’s seminal work, The Mythical Man-Month (Addison-Wesley Pub Co; ISBN: 0201835959). Brooks is best known as the father of the IBM System/360, the quintessential mainframe computer. He managed the projects that created the S/360 and its operating system.

This book contains a wealth of knowledge about software project management including the now common-sense notion that adding manpower to a late software project just makes it later. The 20th anniversary edition of The Mythical Man-Month, published in 1995, contains a reprint of Brooks’ famous article “No Silver Bullet” as well as Brooks’ reflections on the twenty years since the book’s publication. If creating software is your discipline, you absolutely need to read and understand the tenets in this book.

Another essential book for technologists is Peopleware (Dorset House; ISBN: 0932633439) by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister. This book concentrates on the human aspect of project management and teams. If you believe that success is driven by technology more so than people, this book will change your misconceptions. Even though this book was written in the late 1980’s, it is still very pertinent to today’s software development projects.

DeMarco is the author of several other revolutionary texts such as Structured Analysis and Design (Yourdon Press; ISBN: 0138543801). This book almost single-handedly introduced the concept of structured design into the computer programming lexicon. Today, structured analysis and design is almost completely taken for granted as the best way to approach the development of application programs.

If you are a systems analyst, application programmer, or software engineer then you will surely want Donald Knuth’s three volume series The Art of Computer Programming (Addison-Wesley Pub Co; ISBN: 0201485419). This multi-volume reference is certainly the definitive work on programming techniques.

Knuth covers the algorithmic gamut in this three volume set, with the first volume devoted to fundamental algorithms (like trees and linked lists), a second volume devoted to semi-numerical algorithms (e.g. dealing with polynomials and primes), and a final volume dealing with sorting and searching. Even though a comprehensive reading and understanding of this entire set can be foreboding, all good programmers should have these techniques at their disposal.

OK, I know, this is sort of cheating because it is a 3 book set, but so what... my blog... my rules!

Finally, I’d like to recommend a good book on the history of computing. The old maxim still stands: "Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it." But most computer specialists are only dimly aware of the rich history of their chosen field.

There are quite a few books available on computing hsitory and most provide coverage of the basics. A current favorite though, is The Universal History of Computing: From the Abacus to the Quantum Computer by Georges Ifrah. The book offers a comprehensive journey through the history of computing. Particularly interesting is the chronological summary offered up in Chapter 1. It starts out in 35000 BCE - the era from which we have discovered the first notched bones that were probably used for counting, and progresses into the modern era of computing.

This book spans the complete history of information processing providing useful insight into the rise of the computer.

Now I don’t pretend to believe that these are the only classic books in IT literature, but I do know that they will provide a good, solid core foundation for your IT library. Books promote knowledge better than any other method at our disposal. And knowledge helps us do our jobs better. So close down that web connection and pick up a book. You’ll be glad you did.


A.K said...

Great list! BTW, great blog you have here..

Craig S Mullins said...