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Firmware Developer's Essential Reading List

Summary: There are a ton of great books about firmware. Here are Jack's favorites.

Magazines (on-line and otherwise): ? - You're reading it now. It's the most important publication dedicated to embedded systems. ? EDN ( - Yes, this is a hardware publication, but hardware is never far from the software. ? Circuit Cellar Ink ( - Sort of a dream embedded magazine, it covers projects that include both hardware and software. Though aimed at hobbyists, professionals can learn a lot from it. ? Crosstalk ( - An Air Force site, two out of three issues are dreadfully about big process. But one of three are gold.

Must-Reads Peopleware, Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister. This is the most important book on productivity in the software engineering environment around. The key takeaway: interruptions destroy productivity. Cubicles - and, worse, open offices - ensure everyone is operating at the nadir of performance.

A Discipline for Software Engineering, by Watts S. Humphrey. This is the single most important book ever written about software engineering. In it Humphrey takes the reader through the Personal Software Process. The net is huge gains in productivity, lower defect rates and shorter schedules. But it's not for the faint of heart; there's a lot of homework and math, and if you don't do that, you'll get nothing from the book. This is one for grown-ups: developers who really care about their profession and are willing to work hard at the problems to get tremendous benefits.

Guidelines for the Use of the C Language in Vehicle Based Software, by MISRA ( This PDF is a compilation of about 140 rules for the safer use of C. It is not, by itself, enough to define an entire software standard, but it's a good first step. And it's pretty industry standard now.

Structured Testing: A Testing Methodology Using the Cyclomatic Complexity Metric, by Arthur H. Watson and Thomas J. McCabe. Testing can be done somewhat scientifically. This method is useful and important. Peer Reviews in Software by Karl E. Wiegers. This is the all-around best book on the subject. Wiegers looks at the entire spectrum of inspections from informal pass-around reviews to the most formal of processes. The book gives a complete description of the entire review process, from start to finish, in about 80 pages. And the rest of it fills in the details. Best Kept Secrets of Peer Code Review. This free book from does a good job at avoiding promoting their products while digging into reviews of 3 million lines of code at Cisco. Great reference for doing distributed reviews.

Next Tier Reading Confessions of a Used Program Salesman, Will Tracz. This is one of the best books about reuse. Presented in a fun, readable and very accessible manner.

Debugging by David Agans. Most of us have an ad hoc approach to finding bugs. Agans lays out a step by step approach. I disagree with his assessment that we must read the databook cover to cover first; with some parts having a 5000 page datasheet that's impractical. But this other ideas are gems.

Object Oriented Software Construction, Bertrand Meyer. Hands down the best book about OO around. Meyer takes the reader through the entire process of writing OO code. The book is brilliantly-written and deserves a Pulitzer of tech writing. Alas, he does teach Eiffel in it, but all of the ideas scale to C++.

An Embedded Software Primer by David E. Simon - It's aimed at the novice or nearly novice embedded person, one with experience in C but little feel for the unique issues of embedded systems. The book starts with the standard introduction to microprocessor hardware (which could have been left out), but quickly moves on to a very good description of interrupts; this section alone is quite worthwhile. And from there it delves into one of the best discussions of RTOSes anywhere.

Computer Approximations, by John Hart. The art of computer approximations is establishing a balance between accuracy and computational burden. Nearly all commonly used approximations do use polynomials. The trick is figuring out the best mix of coefficients and terms. This is the best book on the subject, though it offers little in terms of theoretical insight. The meat is in it's Tables of Coefficients. There you'll find 150 pages of polynomial coefficients for square and cube roots, exponentials, trig and inverse trig, and logs. The coolest part of this is the large number of solutions for each function: do you want a slow accurate answer or a fast fuzzy one? Hart gives you your choice.

It's not the easiest book to use. Hart assumes we're all mathematical whizzes, making some of it heavy going. Do skim over the math section, and figure out Hart's basic approach to implementing an approximation. His notation is quite baffling: until I figured out that (+3) +.19400 means multiply .194 times 10**3 none of my code worked.

eXtreme Programming Explained. Kent Beck's book is a classic of agile programming. Very readable, very interesting, and full of good ideas. I don't buy into it all, but Beck is thought-provoking and might change some of your approach to development.

Balancing Agility and Discipline, Barry Boehm and Richard Turner. Some of the agile pronouncements are a bit hard to buy for firmware. Zealots on both sides muddy the issues. In this book the authors define five parameters that help one make an engineering decision about where to be in the agile vs. plan-driven approaches.

Published December 7, 2012