Saturday, June 20, 2009

3 Books every engineer should read

There are many excellent books to read if you write software (Software Configuration Management Patterns: Effective Teamwork, Practical Integration) among them :) ). Given that each of us have limited time, its difficult to read everything one might want to, so we tend to focus on reading material that addresses our immediate problems. Having said that, there are 3 books by Jerry Weinberg that have incredibly valuable advice that I use frequently, and I'd like to recommend them to anyone who's serious about software engineering work:
These books are more about working effectively with people to solve technical problems than actual technology problems. This is an area many people neglect; tools and technologies come and go, and you need to maintain your skill level, but knowing how to look at problem solving is a timeless skill. The

I first heard about Are Your Lights On? from Linda Rising who recommended it on the patterns-discussion list. This is an easy to read, entertaining book that illustrates quite clearly what some people never really learn: you need to know what the problem is before looking for a solution. Sounds obvious, but if you've ever spent a lot of time implementing a complicated solution to what turned out to be a non-problem, the techniques in this books will be useful.

Becoming a Technical Leader: An Organic Problem-Solving Approach has lots of good information for technical people at all levels. This book also has some good work-style and problem solving ideas for non-technical people. If you have a role with the word "lead" in your title, the value of this book seems obvious. What's surprising is how the book explains how to be a better technical contributor on a team, regardless of your title. It has many problem solving techniques and guidelines expressed in a clear style. I've read this book a few times and found new insights each time.

If you are in a role where you need to give or receive advice Secrets of Consulting: A Guide to Giving and Getting Advice Successfully has a number of excellent, easy to remember, "rules" to keep in mind. Regardless of whether you are a full time employee, contract employee, or someone who is considering consulting, the techniques in this book are valuable and timeless.

It's rare that a week goes by when I'm not in situations where I apply the advice in one or more of these books. There are other, more recent books that cover similar ground, in particular a few by Johanna Rothman, Esther Derby (among others). Jerry Weinberg is one of the masters of combining the technical and human side of software development, and it's worth your while to read what he's written.

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