What are the best programming books for beginners? This is a broad question. Programmers need a wide variety of skills, and the field you want to work in can have a significant impact on which ones you need. There isn’t one book, or even a list of books, that will teach you everything you need. Some skills can come from books, and some will only come from on-the-job training.
You need books that will improve your knowledge and skills regardless of what type of programming you’re interested in. I’ve put together a list of seven books that will do that for you! These books teach you basic skills that any programmer can use and, more significantly, how programmers need to think.
Let’s dive in.
Clean Code: A Handbook of Agile Software Craftsmanship
Just like its title implies, Clean Code: A Handbook of Agile Software Craftsmanship teaches you about “clean” code. What’s clean code? It’s code that does more than just what’s required. It’s easy to understand and easy to change.
These are both very important properties for code to have. If the only thing you learn from this book is how important it is to create code that you or your coworkers can open up later and fix or add features to, then it’s worth every penny. Creating clean code and cleaning up “dirty” code when you find it are skills that will help you build a successful career.
But you’ll learn a lot more than that from Robert C. “Uncle Bob” Martin. Martin is a leader in the coding space and has a lot to teach you. His writing is clear, engaging, and often entertaining.
The book’s examples are in Java, but don’t let that scare you if you’re working in another language. The core concepts apply to any language. Many professionals consider Clean Code one of the definitive programming texts for good reason.
The Pragmatic Programmer: Your Journey to Mastery, 20th Anniversary Edition
Originally published in 1999, The Pragmatic Programmer: Your Journey to Mastery is one of the most influential programming books ever published. Rather than focusing on the specifics of writing code, the book contains a collection of articles and lessons that cover topics ranging from gathering requirements to avoiding security vulnerabilities to writing effective tests, and much more.
One of the core concepts in the pragmatic philosophy is that in order to succeed as a programmer, you need to be a jack-of-all-trades. This isn’t easy to do in an environment where new technologies emerge on an almost daily basis. True to its name, The Pragmatic Programmer teaches you how to figure out what’s important and how to learn what you need before you need it without wasting valuable time.
Dave Thomas and Andrew Hunt released an updated version of this book in 2019. It belongs on your shelf, and you’ll find yourself referring back to it for many years to come. Whatever type of coding you plan on doing, you want to do it as a pragmatic programmer.
Introduction to Algorithms
Skills in the language you’re working in are important, but applying those skills to the task at hand is even more critical to success as a programmer. This is where algorithms come in. They’re the building blocks of programs.
Introduction to Algorithms covers a broad range of algorithms in a way that manages to be both accessible to beginners and rigorous and comprehensive at the same time. As a matter of fact, several universities use it as a textbook. This is the type of book you’ll keep on your desk (or tablet) as a reference manual.
Each chapter covers the theory behind common algorithms and provides examples in pseudocode so you can apply them to your favorite language.
Working Effectively With Legacy Code
A: The thing you’re inevitably going to end up working with in your career as a developer.
Michael Feathers defines legacy code as code without tests. I define it as someone else’s code. Either way, you’re going to end up working on it, especially as a junior developer. Even though Working Effectively With Legacy Code looks like a book for a seasoned programmer, it’s not.
I’ll let “Uncle Bob” explain how important this book is with a quote from his introduction:
Like death and taxes, legacy code is inevitable.
Feathers’s emphasis on tests means this book does double duty. In addition to serving as a guide for fixing legacy code, it also teaches the importance of writing unit tests. While writing them up front is best, writing them when you fix someone’s else code is still worth the effort.
This book should be required reading.
Programming Pearls is a collection of essays from Jon Bentley’s column in Communications of the Association for Computing Machinery. If you don’t know who Bentley is, you should. His column in CACM launched many a career and served as a textbook for many of the other popular authors like Steve McConnell.
Addison-Wesley collected the first edition in 1986. The latest is from back in 1999, but these essays are timeless.
Each chapter contains a problem, and you can try to solve it yourself before viewing the solution. Don’t cheat! Try them out yourself. You’ll learn a lot, and you may even find yourself coming back and trying them again a few years from now to see how much you’ve improved.
Code Complete: A Practical Handbook of Software Construction, Second Edition 2nd Edition
Developing software, at least when you’re doing it right, is a process. We all want to sit down and starting writing code and running it right away. Sometimes we’re lucky and we can—but that’s not how you finish the big jobs. This is where Code Complete: A Practical Handbook of Software Construction comes in. Just like the subtitle says, it’s a handbook for constructing software.
This book weighs in at almost 900 pages. Its seven sections should give you an idea of what the book is about: Laying the Foundation, Creating High-Quality Code, Variables, Statements, Code Improvements, System Considerations, and Software Craftsmanship. Code Complete takes a methodical and scientific approach to creating quality software.
McConnell (yes, the same author I mentioned above) structured the book as a reference guide, too. There’s a section at the end that explains how you can use it right away instead of trying to read it end-to-end first.
Automate the Boring Stuff With Python: Practical Programming for Total Beginners, 2nd Edition
Automate the Boring Stuff With Python is clearly a Python programming book, but it teaches you how to get comfortable with writing code to get things done. It’s also a lot of fun. You’ll learn how to write code to control a web browser, send emails, and manipulate documents. One of the best ways to learn is by doing. With this book, you’ll have a chance to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty. Also, as a bonus, you’ll see how you can use code to save time and gain some efficiency.
That’s my list of books for new programmers. These books cover how to write good code, how to make bad code good, and what your process for creating software should look like. Crack open a book (but try not to crack your tablet) and get started now!
This post was written by Eric Goebelbecker. Eric has worked in the financial markets in New York City for 25 years, developing infrastructure for market data and financial information exchange (FIX) protocol networks. He loves to talk about what makes teams effective (or not so effective!).