Hardware development has become a hot topic for a wide variety of people. It feels like people with an degree in electrical engineering are actually a minority online communities. There, you find all kinds of people mingling, middle-aged hobbyists, artists, home automation geeks, designers, you name it.
Probably that’s where my fascination for learning hardware comes from — finally being able to see behind the curtain. 😅
This turned out to be much more difficult than expected, especially finding learning resources that match my web developer profile!
So far, I have got about 40 books about electronics, Arduino, low-level programming, Raspberry Pie, IoT, etc. Most of them I didn’t completely work through, some I did close very quickly again I have to admit… Why is that?
On the one hand side, I have a strong technical background, so normally I can’t learn much from total beginner books, as they spend a lot of time explaining IDEs, programming concepts and so on. On the other hand side, I am a total newbie to all aspects of electronics.
Besides the personal background, also very recent experience plays a central role, when looking for the next read. A book that might be very hard to read today, can turn into gold, with just little more experience in the field.
So…which books should you read when you want to get into hardware development as a software engineer? 🤔
The result of my assessment, the following list of 5 books. These are the once I can absolutely recommend especially in the described order. I hope to save you some hustle to find developer-friendly electronics books.
Disclaimer: The links below are no affiliate links, this is really just about the books I like, no marketing bulls**t.
1. Learn Electronics with Arduino: An Illustrated Beginner’s Guide to physical Computing
by Eric Hagan and Jody Culkin
This might be surprising to you, the best introduction to electronics I read wasn’t written by electrical engineers.
Neither Eric nor Jody is an electrical engineers. In fact, both authors have a background in the arts. This is great! Why?
You will learn from someone who learned electronics on his own, without the chance to build upon formal education in the field. As a result, this book is phenomenally seamless to read. Nothing is taken for granted. It is packed with clear and easy to follow instructions to learn the bread and butter of building arduino-based hardware projects.
In contrast to academic publications this book is very welcoming to people from all kinds of backgrounds. It’s rich body of illustrations and great layout makes learning electronics even easier. I haven’t found any other electronics book on the same visual level.
Even though the book is about Arduino, you can learn a lot about plain electronics.
It starts with walking you through a couple of fun projects, which introduce you to the most basic electronics components and teaches you how to use them in a very open and exploratory way. As a result, the book stays very engaging and helps to see progress quickly — which is especially important in the beginning.
Eric and Jody also explain how to program an Arduino in great detail. As a software engineer I felt a little bored, since it starts with the very basic concepts. You might just skip the section. In case you are not familiar with low level programming languages though, it gets interesting again quickly.
As a downside of the ease of reading this but, you won’t learn much about the mathematical formulas and laws behind the circuits you build. Eventually you will want to design your own circuits, which needs all that knowledge. As this isn’t something you do at day one, the book’s lack of depth isn’t a show stopper. Still, later in your journey you will have to explicitly spend time on circuit analysis. No worries though, I also have advice to cover that topic! 😉
2. Arduino Applied: Comprehensive Projects for Everyday Electronics
by Neil Cameron
Sooner or later you will start using microcontrollers. The Arduino platform is really a fantastic first starting point. You might have gained some experience from the previous book. Now it makes sense to learn what an Arduino board actually is from an technical perspective.
Neil Cameron has enlighten me with his fantastic project on how to build an Arduino from scratch. He describes in easy to follow words the central Integrated Circuit (IC), commonly knows as “chip”, and the electrical components which make up an Arduino together. The project is part of his book “Arduino Applied: Comprehensive Projects for everyday electronics”. Around the fantastic Arduino project Neil has group many other project which focus specific hardware pieces like “humidity sensor”, “LCD display”, “joystick”, etc. That’s exactly what you need next to extend your knowledge and skills.
It is also very refreshing that Neil skips the typical beginner projects like the omnipresent “intrusion detector” I have found in about half of all books. The collection of examples Neils has pot together, I still use as a starting point to spin up my own projects.
As soon as you want to explore more complex technical components in combination with an Arduino, Neil’s book is for you.
3. Practical Electronics for Inventors
By Paul Scherz
At a later stage of your journey you will want to gain full control over your circuits. That requires to get some of the math right. We previously skipped it for the sake of fast progress. Paul’s well perceived “Practical Electronics for Inventors” is the right choice to pick up some serious electronics skills.
Don’t let the over 1000 pages (kindle version) scare you off. I use the book to lookup the in-depth technical answers, whenever question pop up during a project.
Getting Paul’s book becomes a no-brainer when you have decided to take your journey to the next level. Don’t repeat the mistake I made, so don’t buy the book at the very beginning of your journey — it will be very overwhelming and discouraging to a total newbie. 😅
by Indira Knight
Personally, this is the type of hardware projects I am most interested in — I really enjoy creating something that connects the digital and the physical world. Why? It adds multiple new dimensions of possibilities to design an experience:
- What’s the right physical interaction for the job?
- How to visualize sensor data in the best way on the web?
- How to translate web data into physical responses?
While Indira’s book is mostly an introduction, it still provides the key knowledge to create your own first connected devices. You also get a taste of what is possible in the IoT space!
5. Learning the Art of Electronics: A Hands-On Lab Course
By Thomas C. Hayes
You probably have heard about “The Art of Electronics” (AoE) by Paul Horowitz — one of the classic electronics books recommended everywhere. I must say, it didn’t give me much. Might have been the wrong point in time when I looked into it, but it had been one of the books I closed again very quickly.
It turns out, I am not the only one who struggled with it! Thomas states in the preface chapter of his book:
“AoE…is so rich and dense that it might cause intellectual indigestion in a student just beginning his study of electronics.”
The beauty of Thomas’ book “Learning the Art of Electronics” lies in the fact, that it is based on Horowitz’s book, but much more hands-on and easy to read. It’s effective in translating the theoretical wisdom into hands on lab projects. Originally it was written to support a course taught by Thomas at Harvard. The content is already portioned into 26 junks, supposed to take one day each. Since it’s written for academia, I found it difficult to directly scope them into suitable evening projects, but it’s still the most hands on academic book I have found so far.
I recommend reading it, when you start to face real world problems in your own project and you need examples to learn from. The first thing it covers is a voltage divider, nothing I would have graved to build by my own, but as part of a larger project, it is very helpful to actually power all components from the same power source. In the long run Thomas’ book turned out to be priceless!
That’s pretty much all the books you need to make significant progress on your hardware journey. I hope the reviews are helpful to you. I share my own journey from software into hardware development on twitter under #100DaysOfHardware.
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