Unmissable Reading for Engineers

Books that turned a page in my career

Chris Cooney
Jun 17 · 5 min read
Photo by Susan Yin on Unsplash

In technology, books can sometimes seem antiquated. We read blogs, articles and “how to” guides. We listen to podcasts or go to meetups. Or at least, that’s what I thought, until I noticed a trend in almost every engineer that I looked up to.

They all had their list. Books that made their career what it was. They weren’t always technical. Sometimes they were fictional novels that gave them a new perspective. But all of them had a collection that they would endlessly recommend. I got to reading. Then I made my own list and I’ve been adding to it ever since.

The Standard Mentions

I’ve read some of these articles before. Every engineer’s book list contains the classics. Clean Code by Uncle Bob Martin. Extreme Programming by Kent Beck. Refactoring by Martin Fowler.

The list of foundational books is endless. I’ve avoided these, because, as an engineer, they’re just staples. They’re the bread and butter of modern technology. Even if you’re not a book reader, you’ve probably read them.

With that in mind, I’ve stuck to books that might not be your first choice. Less known but equally golden. Let’s get right into it.

1. Accelerate — Nicole Forsgren, Jez Humble & Gene Kim

When this book landed, the whole technology world lost it. Finally, rigorous science meets the common sense arguments made by engineers every day. It’s accessible, easy to understand and unfailingly thorough.

Things like the four key metrics were brought into the public consciousness by this book. Every page has a gem, and if you’re a CEO or a junior engineer, it is entirely indispensable. This should form the basic syllabus of any technical leadership team and is entirely unmissable for engineers looking for a concrete analysis of what actually works.

2. The Principles of Product Development Flow — Donald G. Reinertsen

The title makes this sound like it was written in 1914. It’s one step away from being A Treatise on the nature of Product Flow. Don’t be put off. It’s well written, well argued, informative and in depth.

It provides a great introduction and deep-dives into how flow works in the product development cycle. This will make you rebuild your Kanban board, rip apart your processes and rethink how your product moves in your organisation.

A little science here, a little math there (nothing too heavy) and a whole lot of common sense. Reading this was a Neo moment, and I started to see how flow had a huge impact on everything in my office.

3. The Goal — Eliyahu Goldratt and Jeff Cox

Eli Goldratt’s name has fallen out of the public consciousness of late, but his creation, The Theory of Constraints, is immortal. In this novel, he introduces this theory in an engaging and well written manner. Once you’re through with this, the world will start looking like constraints.

It gives you the tools you need to start analyzing processes and finding the bottlenecks. It’s a great primer and a key text for any engineer. Written in the form of a first person novel, the characters are surprisingly well formed and the plot is engaging.

4. Crossing The Chasm — Geoffrey A. Moore

This isn’t a technical book, it’s about marketing. This book explains the common transition of a creation, from flashy and new, to a stable, rock solid product.

It discusses the practices and tactics that people have employed with success. It is important, as an engineer, to broaden your horizons past just the code. The code is gold, but understanding how a product works lets you know how to spend that gold and how to mine for more.

5. The Culture Code — Daniel Coyle

Another non-technical write up. This book discusses the observations of the author when trying to work out how cultures form, what great cultures look like and what some of the key ingredients are.

The message is simple. Make people feel like they belong. It could stop there and be valuable, but it dives into how that manifests itself. Ideas like “belonging cues” working their way into communication or how individuals behave like “glue” in groups.

This book will force you to take a look at the environment you’re helping to forge in your office. When you’re done looking, it’ll show you how to improve it to create an inclusive, safe and empowering environment.

This is the bedrock of good engineering in the modern age.

6. Slack — Tom DeMarco

Sensing an 80s theme with these book covers…

Maximising the productivity of engineers has been a head scratcher for many a project manager. They become so obsessed with it that they fail to realise the folly of the whole endeavour. That without a little slack time — a little padding — plans are doomed to fail.

Tom DeMarco does an outstanding job of explaining how slack works and how it can be used to defeat burnout and micromanagement. As an engineer, you’re going to be making plans. All the time. You need to have an appreciation for the human beings in that plan.

7. Site Reliability Engineering — Betsy Beyer, Chris Jones, Jennifer Peteof & Niall Murphy

Site Reliability Engineering is a tome of endless wisdom. It is absolutely packed, from cover to cover, with advice on how to engineer highly available, resilient, secure software.

Brimming with stories, anecdotes, advice and warnings from some of the brightest minds in the field, the contents of this book will furnish you with an army of ideas for how to improve your software as you scale.

If you’re into your infrastructure, front end design or even if you just want to put together a few scripts to automate your working life, this book provides an in depth guide to help avoid the common pitfalls.

8. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas — Hunter S. Thompson

Because it will make you realise that the world of technology is like the normal world except you’re six hours into an acid trip.

I’m regularly writing much shorter books on twitter.

Better Programming

Advice for programmers.

Thanks to Zack Shapiro.

Chris Cooney

Written by

Software Engineer.

Better Programming

Advice for programmers.