Software engineering books have always been a great way to learn more about your field. It doesn’t matter if you’re an aspiring, beginner, or experienced software engineer — there’s always something new to learn in a great software engineering book.
These days, a wide variety of software books are available to help you pick up new knowledge and tips you might’ve never heard before. Book topics range from clean code to design patterns and philosophies. Some can even help you prepare for your big job interview!
Below, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best books on software engineering. Check out these books if you’d like to gain new insights and perspectives that may help your career.
Best Books for Software Engineers
Among this list of the best books for software engineers, here are some of our top picks:
Related: Read our handy guide to starting a career in software engineering if you’re ready to jump into this ever-evolving field!
Kinds of Software Engineering
As a field, software engineering is incredibly broad. Thus, developers in the industry often have different skill sets and expertise centering around various things, such as building software or consumer-facing websites, maintaining network or cyber security, building and managing computer information systems, and more.
There are three primary types of software engineering:
- Operational - This level of software engineering focuses more on how the software product will work and interact within its system. It emphasizes software usability, functionality, reliability, and cost — such as ensuring it falls within budget. Operational software engineering may also consider the risks posed by the software product.
- Transitional - The transitional side of software engineering looks at how the product reacts when moved from one environment (or system) to another. It also looks at a software product’s flexibility and scalability.
- Maintenance - Software engineering maintenance, or recurrent software engineering, looks at how software functions inside an existing system despite any changes over time.
There is a wide range of software engineering jobs that often fall within one of the three types above. It’s also worth noting that software engineers can work with the front or back end — or be full-stack developers. There are also other jobs, like DevOps or QA engineers.
Best Software Engineering Books to Read
- Author: Gayle Laakmann McDowell
- Publisher: CareerCup; Sixth Edition
If there’s one thing that might intimidate professionals, it’s the job interview process. If you’ve found yourself woefully unprepared at an interview where you’re told to come up with algorithms on the fly or asked to write your (hopefully flawless) code on a whiteboard, this book might be a good read for you.
Cracking the Coding Interview by Gayle Laakmann McDowell is one of the best books for software engineer aspirants who want to improve their chances of acing a job interview. From her experience interviewing and coaching countless software engineers, McDowell created a book with 189 real-world interview questions to help you practice. The book also includes handy tips and five tried-and-tested strategies proven to help you answer similar questions and come up with solutions to problems (even if you haven’t practiced answering them before).
- Author: Robert C. Martin
- Publisher: Pearson; First Edition
Clean Architecture is a book written by legendary software engineer (lovingly called a “software craftsman”) Robert C. Martin. This book aims to help drastically improve software developer or engineer productivity during the life of any system.
Clean Architecture helps software engineers learn the fundamentals and principles of clean software architecture design. In this book, Martin gives direct, no-nonsense advice and solutions for various challenges you may face as a software engineer — including make-or-break challenges that can significantly impact your project. His valuable insight comes from over fifty years of experience and can help any systems analysts, designers, architects, and even software managers.
3. The Art of Computer Programming (Vol. 1 to 4)
- Author: Donald Knuth and Donald John Fuller
- Publisher: Addison-Wesley Professional; First Edition
Although certainly on the pricier end of the spectrum, the four-volume series of The Art of Computer Programming is a resource that should be on just about any self-respecting software engineer’s bookshelf. The volume comprises four books that provide programmers with essential information to help them regardless of their level. These hardcover books have vital information you shouldn’t miss, whether you’re a beginner or a veteran software engineer.
One of the primary goals of this book series is to acquaint its readers with comprehensive tools often used in programming. It’s worth mentioning, however, that this book series isn’t so much something to be read from cover to cover — instead, it is a resource you can refer to at your convenience.
- Author: Steve McConnell
- Publisher: Microsoft Press; Second Edition
Widely regarded as one of the top practical programming guides available today, Code Complete (2nd Edition) by Steve McConnell is another of the best software engineer books you can find today. The first edition of this book has been helping programmers improve their code quality for over a decade. Now, the second edition is a fully revised and updated book that contains newer, cutting-edge practices used in the industry.
This book contains knowledge from research, academia, and even common practice used daily in commercial settings. It’s an excellent read for any experience level as it aims to help you stimulate and inform your way of thinking, thus allowing you to boost your code’s quality.
Code Complete, published by Microsoft Press, includes many timeless techniques to help you design your software with maximum creativity and minimum complexity.
- Author: John K. Ousterhout
- Publisher: Yaknyam Press
As the name suggests, this book discusses software design but focuses on reducing design complexity along the way. Its primary aim is to help software engineers manage complexities during the software design and engineering process. It also describes many of the philosophical aspects of any of the processes that software engineers and programmers must follow during the development of a product.
This book uses a fascinating structure to help explain concepts clearly yet simply. Everything is laid out in a manner that is easy to understand, making it a fantastic read if you are looking for an in-depth perspective into the philosophies involved in software engineering.
- Author: David Thomas, Andrew Hunt
- Publisher: Addison-Wesley Professional; Second Edition
The fact that this book is on its 20th anniversary while still being relevant and well-regarded says enough about its quality, usefulness, and helpfulness. After all, just because it’s ‘old’ doesn’t mean it’s outdated or unuseful. Now on its second edition, this anniversary release takes another look at what being a modern programmer means.
There is a broad range of topics in The Pragmatic Programmer, including architectural techniques, personal responsibility, career development, and more. As a strong contender for the best book on software engineering, The Pragmatic Programmer can help you keep your code easy to reuse while maintaining its adaptability and flexibility.
From this book, you’ll learn things like writing dynamic code, solving underlying problems, protecting against security vulnerabilities, testing ruthlessly yet effectively, and more. It’s an excellent read for programmers of any level and even beneficial for managers responsible for software projects.
- Author: Steve Krug
- Publisher: New Riders; Third Edition
Don’t Make Me Think is a book by Steve Krug, a usability guru who also happens to be an expert on information design and intuitive navigation. The book’s first edition came out in 2000 and has since been a beneficial resource for those looking to learn more about UX (user experience) design. It is currently on its third edition, which has been updated to include a chapter covering mobile usability.
Read this book if you’d like fresh perspectives and practical advice on software or website design for humans. The book focuses on brevity, simplicity, and the inclusion of common sense in design to make the user experience pleasant.
- Author: Eric Freeman, Elisabeth Robson, Kathy Sierra, Bert Bates
- Publisher: O'Reilly Media; Second Edition
Head First Design Patterns was written by four authorities on the subject — Eric Freeman, Elisabeth Robson, Kathy Sierra, and Bert Bates. This book focuses on the myriad issues that may consistently challenge software engineers, at least when it comes to design patterns.
This well-written book uses a visually-rich structure and format that was designed to work optimally with the human mind. Its primary aim is to teach software engineers of varying levels the most critical patterns in software design. But it doesn’t stop there — it also shows software engineers how and when to use these patterns. Additionally, Head First Design Patterns teaches software engineers about patterns they should avoid using entirely (and why).
This book is excellent if you’d like to improve your skills in object-oriented design, especially if you are a visual learner or just want something more exciting than constant walls of text. One thing that this book could improve upon, however, is providing more code examples to replace at least some of the illustrations.
- Author: Robert C. Martin
- Publisher: Pearson; First Edition
If author Robert C. Martin sounds familiar, that’s because he’s the same software craftsman who wrote Clean Architecture, the second item on this list of the best books on software engineering.
In this book, Robert C. Martin (or “Uncle Bob,” as many have affectionately nicknamed him) recognizes that even bad code will still function. However, Martin also knows that if this code is not clean, it can put a wrench in the works. Messy code can cost countless staffing hours and a heavy load of resources to work with.
Thus, Clean Code aims to help software engineers and developers improve their code and “clean” it up to minimize future issues. Clean Code is undoubtedly in the running for the best software engineering book, especially for those just starting out in the field.
- Author: Martin Fowler
- Publisher: Addison-Wesley Professional; Second Edition
Refactoring: Improving the Design of Existing Code by Martin Fowler is a book that has been a helpful resource for programmers around the world for over two decades. This book aims to help improve the design of legacy code, whether yours or others’. This is a software development book that most software devs or engineers might want to read, as the insights within can make a massive difference in a software product’s maintainability.
Reading this book can help you understand the general fundamentals and principles of refactoring so that you can build (or edit) your code well from the get-go. You may want to give this book a go if you would like to make your software product much easier to change and update over time.
While coming up with this list, we came to the conclusion that there is no single best book for software engineering. Many books can offer their own insights, helpful tips, and more, as long as you’re willing to spend the time and read. You also won’t always agree with all of the top software engineering books — one day, you may inevitably find perspectives that do not align with your own.
Nevertheless, we hope this list of the best software engineering books helps you find your next good read! If you think we missed one that should be on this list, please don’t hesitate to let us know in the comments below!
Read our in-depth software developer vs. software engineering comparison if you’d like to know more about the similarities and differences of each field!
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Can I become a software engineer by reading books?
It is possible to learn some of the fundamentals and core concepts needed by software engineers by reading some of the best books for software engineering. However, if you genuinely want to succeed in the industry, you must complement your book learning with some practical exercises and hands-on projects.
2. Which are the best software engineering books?
There are far too many software eng books to point to just a handful, which is why we put together this list of some of the best of them. Consider reading books by Robert C. Martin as well as volumes 1 to 4A of the series Art of Computer Programming.
3. What do you read as a software engineer?
As an aspiring, beginner, or experienced software engineer, your reading list might ideally contain some of the software engineering textbooks mentioned above. However, it’s also vital to keep updated on the latest and most significant changes to the field by following some authorities and blogs, joining forums, and more.
4. Is software engineering easy?
It depends — everyone is different, and what might be easy for you might be challenging for some (and vice versa). Software engineering can indeed be easy for you to learn, especially if you are particularly interested or inclined toward some of the concepts, skills, and tools involved in the industry.
5. What topics are covered in software engineering?
It’s likely that the topics covered by the software engineering umbrella will simply continue to grow in number and complexity as technology advances. Right now, however, some of the most popular topics involved include design architecture, usability, programming simplicity (over complexity), and more — all principles and fundamentals used for various niches in software engineering, such as systems security, systems design, app or web development, and more.