Austin Computer Book Club

Vote: Our First Two 2018 Books

Here are the choices for the first two meetups of next year. The two highest-rated books will be the ones we read for our January and March meetings. Voting closes on November 7 (election day IRL here in Austin).

Grokking Algorithms

– An illustrated guide for programmers and other curious people, by Aditya Y. Bhargava
256 pages, 2016, $31-$45

Grokking Algorithms is a fully illustrated, friendly guide that teaches you how to apply common algorithms to the practical problems you face every day as a programmer. You’ll start with sorting and searching and, as you build up your skills in thinking algorithmically, you’ll tackle more complex concerns such as data compression and artificial intelligence. Each carefully presented example includes helpful diagrams and fully annotated code samples in Python. By the end of this book, you will have mastered widely applicable algorithms as well as how and when to use them. This easy-to-read, picture-heavy introduction is suitable for self-taught programmers, engineers, or anyone who wants to brush up on algorithms. [sample chapter]

The Pragmatic Programmer

– From Journeyman to Master, by Andrew Hunt & David Thomas
352 pages, 1999, $22-$50

Straight from the programming trenches, The Pragmatic Programmer cuts through the increasing specialization and technicalities of modern software development to examine the core process–taking a requirement and producing working, maintainable code that delights its users. It covers topics ranging from personal responsibility and career development to architectural techniques for keeping your code flexible and easy to adapt and reuse. Written as a series of self-contained sections and filled with entertaining anecdotes, thoughtful examples, and interesting analogies, The Pragmatic Programmer illustrates the best practices and major pitfalls of many different aspects of software development.

Unlocking the Clubhouse

– Women in Computing, by Jane Margolis & Allan Fisher
184 pages, 2003, $5-$23

In Unlocking the Clubhouse, social scientist Jane Margolis and computer scientist and educator Allan Fisher examine the many influences contributing to the gender gap in computing. The book is based on interviews with more than 100 computer science students of both sexes from Carnegie Mellon University, a major center of computer science research, over a period of four years, as well as classroom observations and conversations with hundreds of college and high school faculty. The authors investigate the familial, educational, and institutional origins of the computing gender gap. They also describe educational reforms that have made a dramatic difference at Carnegie Mellon — where the percentage of women entering the School of Computer Science rose from 7% in 1995 to 42% in 2000 — and at high schools around the country.

Weapons of Math Destruction

– How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy, by Cathy O’Neil
272 pages, 2016, $10-$26

We live in the age of the algorithm. Increasingly, the decisions that affect our lives—where we go to school, whether we get a car loan, how much we pay for health insurance—are being made not by humans, but by mathematical models. In theory, this should lead to greater fairness: Everyone is judged according to the same rules, and bias is eliminated. But as Cathy O’Neil reveals in this shocking book, the opposite is true. The models being used today are opaque, unregulated, and uncontestable, even when they’re wrong. Most troubling, they reinforce discrimination: If a poor student can’t get a loan because a lending model deems him too risky (by virtue of his race or neighborhood), he’s then cut off from the kind of education that could pull him out of poverty, and a vicious spiral ensues. Models are propping up the lucky and punishing the downtrodden, creating a “toxic cocktail for democracy.” Welcome to the dark side of Big Data.


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