11 best computer authors: A programmer's perspective

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Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister

From the beginning of my career I have always worked in large and small teams. While programming has been more of a solitary activity (except if you are part of a pair programming duo), it is the collaboration in teams that can make and break a project. I learned about project management and team interaction working at TRW. It was DeMarco and Lister's "Peopleware" book that really brought it all home for me - productive teams can really make the difference in the succes and failuer of a project. A more recent book about project risk management, "Waltzing with Bears", help me understand that it is okay to push the limits of programming (we've only been doing this for about 50 years now) as long as we understand the risks.

Edsger W. Dijkstra

I've only known Edsger Dijkstra through his articles and books. Numerous articles would appear in the Communications of the ACM monthly magazine. As a young programmer in the 1970s, I thought I could program any computer, anytime and anywhere. The Computer Scientist in me helped keep me grounded in good architecture, efficient algorithms and clean data structures. The Grateful Dead and Jimi Hendrix loving hippie in me drove me to go wild and crazy. Most programmers will remember Dijkstra for his letter, "Go-to statement considered harmful" that appeared in the March 1968 Communications of the ACM magazine. It was Dijkstra's book, "A Discipline of Programming", that taught me "that programs could have a compelling and deep logical beauty". Dijkstra is one of Computer Science's most prolific writers. His books are only one part of the depth and breadth of his work. You can read all of his writings at the Edsger W. Dijkstra Archive.

Martin Fowler

Before the Refactoring book, we'd all spent hours and days tweaking our code to make it perform and look better. Martin Fowler and others gave us the methods and tools to make refactoring (and in conjunction with unit tests) part of our everyday programming work. We always knew where the problems were, but we often put blinders on so that we could get the job done. With refactoring we were given names for the bad smells and code manipulations that fixed the bad designs and poor implementations in our code. Martin Fowler's Refactoring home page is probably on every programmers bookmark list. Refactoring tooling is built into almost every developer IDE and programmer's editor. Beyond just his writing, Martin Fowler can be found imparting his experiences and sound advice at conferences all over the world.

Watts S. Humphrey

Thank goodness for Watts Humphrey, Carnegie Mellon University and the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) for helping advance our Software Engineering discipline and improve the skills of every software engineer.  Whether you use the Personal Software Process, Team Software Process or some other process, we can all thank Watts Humphrey and the many professors and researchers at the SEI. His latest book, published this year, "Reflections on Management" is subtitled "How to Manage your Software Projects, Your Teams, Your Boss and Yourself". I especially enjoyed Part IV - Managing Yourself. Sometimes it is easy to hide inside a company and a team. The best programmers not only continuously improved the quality of their work, they also influence other members of their team.This book is full of so many nuggets of wisdom and experience that it will help seasoned managers, senior software engineers and beginning programmers.

Donald E. Knuth

The title of the book series, "The Art of Computer Programming", says it all. It's not just a job that we enjoy, it is our creative outlet. The book series has been my most trusted programming reference in all my years as a developer. Who hasn't learned an algorithm or used one from his first three books? As a total fan of programming languages and programming, Knuth's lectures have guided my thoughts about simpler languages and faster ways of writing programs. His lecture notes about Literate Programming ring as true today as they did years ago. Part 4 of the Art of Computer Programming is available as a series of sections, definitely worth adding to your programming reference library. I was completely blown away by his honesty in "Things a Computer Scientist rarely talks about". In my opinion, this is a must read for every Computer Science student before they graduate.

Bjarne Stroustrup

How to improve the C programming language? Merge two wonderful languages, C and Simula, and add enough additional syntax and standard libraries so that large and small systems and applications can be built for even the most demanding requirements and operating environments. To put the icing on the cake -- with the cherry on top -- AT&T and Bjarne gave the programming language to the industry so that it can be extended and improved to meet the needs of generations of new programmers and opportunities. Bjarne Stroustrup has not only help shepherd the language, he has also given us key insights in to the philosophy, design, tradeoffs and reasons for the language. His book, "The Design and Evolution of C++", is a must read for anyone interested in creating their own programming language. I've been honored to site on the same panel with Bjarne at several developer conferences. Bjarne also appeared on my "World of C++" instructional video written by Bruce Eckel. I've enjoyed talking with Bjarne about the C++ language and its future. Thanks to Bjarne and the many members of the ISO C++ standards committee, the C++ language will continue to be one of the most important and influential languages for small, medium and large systems.

Peter Coad and Ed Yourdon

Before there were objects, there was structured programming. Peter Coad and Ed Yourdon helped teach all of us how to avoid spaghetti code. I first met Peter Coad and Ed Yourdon at many developer conferences. In the early 1990's as we were continuing to expand the capabilities of our C++ IDE, Peter Coad showed me work he was doing to allow C++ programmers to edit their code and edit their object models at the same time. No longer would developers have to go through the "round trip engineering" process. I thought I was a pretty good presenter at conferences, but Peter showed me several additional dimensions beyond use of color ("ROY-G-BIV"), fewer bullet and sub-bullet points and audience contact (ERA = eye contact, reach out and animate). Peter also used music, hat changes, clothing changes, whistles and anything else that would reach out, grad and educate his audiences. I invited Peter to do a keynote at one of our developer conferences. I think it was the largest object modeling exercise ever attempted live (more than 1500 attendees identifying objects, responsibilities and collaborations). Ed Yourdon's books on the rise, fall and resurrection of the (American) programmer books serve as a cautionary tale for all programming communities and developers around the world.

I could have (easily) created a top twenty (or more) author list, but if 11 is good enough for Spinal Tap, it is also good enough for me. Here are a few "honorable mention" authors that, while they have written great books, did not (yet) make it on my final author list: Steve McConnell, Dave Thomas, Charles Petzold, Bruce Eckel, Clifford Stoll, Guy Steele, Larry Constantine, Jeff Duntemann, Ray Kurzweil and Scott Ambler.

I'm sure there will be some authors that are on your list but not mine. Post a comment listing your favorite authors, their books and why they are part of your top ten author list.

Programming is Life!

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David Intersimone (David I) is the Vice President of Developer Relations and Chief Evangelist for Embarcadero Technologies. My company blog is at http://blogs.embarcadero.com/davidi. Note: This is a weblog of David Intersimone. The opinions expressed are those of David Intersimone and may not represent those of Computerworld.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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