11 best computer authors: A programmer's perspective

There are many Internet lists of best programming and software engineering books. Amazon also has their list of best selling computer programming books. I've also blogged on the topic in the past: "Six must have computer science books" and "What makes a good (tech) book read?" Many of the books I own where purchased based on specific topics of interest and of need. My library is filled with many technical books that I use as references. In general, I like books that are small (a quick read) and focused (they get right to the point). Lately, I've started thinking more about my list of best authors instead of just best books. A great author (and industry luminary) has worthwhile information to impart and also has important things to say. If I enjoy one of their books, I usually check out their other books and often buy all of them.

I've created my top eleven list (in alphabetical order by last name) of best programming and software engineering book authors (some are a combination of authors that often write together as well as individually) and listings of some of their definitive works. My top eleven list (if 11 is good enough for Spinal Tap it is also good enough for me.) is based on:

  • Their body of written and presented work - books, articles and presentations
  • Their contributions to programming's state-of-the-art
  • Specific books that "stand the test of time"
  • Their involvement in our craft and industry
  • If I'll read anything they publish
  • The person (many that I've met and some I wish I could meet).

Kent Beck

Kent Beck used to live in the Santa Cruz mountains near where I work and live. I first met Kent Beck at one of the ACM OOPSLA conferences. He was talking about a book by an Architecture professor and architect, Christopher Alexander (A Timeless Way of Building), and how the book was influencing his approach to design with Patterns. Kent also stopped by our company to talk with the R&D team. I've been bumping into Kent ever since at industry events. Kent always challenges assumptions about software engineering and programming. He always makes me stop and think about why what we do.

Jon Bentley

I have been an ACM member since 1972 when I joined as a student member while I was at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Jon Bently's column, Programming Pearls, appeared in the Communications of the ACM montly magazine. The columns provided keen insights into the little algorithmic nuggets that we use (or should use) in our programs. Those columns have been collected into the "Programming Pearls" and "More Programming Pearls" books. "Writing Efficient Programs" The other book that greatly influenced my programming career when I made the move from assembly language programming to using higher level languages. Using compilers and profilers can help us write faster and smaller code. This book trained my mind to think efficient before and during the programming process. I first met Jon Bentley when he was the keynote speaker at the Second Annual Software Development Conference at the San Francisco Marriott. His talk was about "Little Languages". That keynote has driven me to strive for simplicity in programming langauges and application architectures. It was also an important early step in understanding how to embed languages and application engines into my programs.

Grady Booch, Ivar Jacobson and Jim Rumbaugh

In the early years of object-oriented programming there were many books on object-oriented analysis and design. Grady Booch, Ivar Jacobsen and Jim Rumbaugh each had their own books and methods. Finally, they got together to combine their approaches into the Unified Modeling Language (UML). I would see them at the many object programming conferences including OOPSLA. I've especially enjoyed my many meetings and conversations with Grady Booch. We were always bumping into each other in airport waiting rooms around the world. Thanks to the three amigos and many other industry members, UML is alive and well as an industry standard specification as part of the OMG set of specifications.

Frederick P. Brooks Jr.

I wrote my first program (a prime number generator) using Fortran on the IBM 360/40 mainframe computer at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. I still can't believe that this fall it will have been 41 years since I keypunched my first line of code. After graduation I went to work at TRW in Los Angeles. At TRW all of the project planning schedules were broken down into man-hours, man- days and man-months. One of the first non-textbook computer books I bought as a professional programmer was the "Mythical Man Month". The essays helped my improve my software engineering skills on both the large and small projects that I was working on. The book became even more valuable when I made the leap from the technical to the management track (even though I continue to program today). Fred Brooks has a new book, just published this year, called "The Design of Design" with even more essays about design, collaboration, and case studies. I love Brooks' use of essays - they are short, contain complete thoughts, include notes and references.

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