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08 | 2020

5 Books to shape your journey into hardware development

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Hardware has become a topic of interest for a wide variety of people - not only electrical engineers but also artists, home automation geeks, designers, robotics fans and software developers like me.

From experience, I can tell it’s hard to find learning resources that match your unique background, as you know a lot of technical concepts, so you don’t need a beginner-friendly explanation of how to setup an IDE. At the same time you probably know nothing about electronics theory.

Still, you are faced with the challenge to find the right book for your level of knowledge. A book being to theoretical today, might be gold, just 3 month later.

To support other software developers who want to get into hardware development, I created the following list of 5 books, that have shapped my journey the most.

This article is a part of #100DaysOfHardware - A challenge, I pioneer to learn about electronics, micro-controllers and eventually IoT.

Not sure where to start, or some other question? Just talk to me on twitter if you need any help along the way or want to join the challenge. 🤓

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, but neither Eric nor Jody is an electrical engineers. In fact, both authors have a background in the arts. For a beginners book, this is great! Why? You will learn from someone who had to learn electronics on his own, without a formal education in the field to build up on.

As a result, the book is phenomenally beginner friendly. Nothing is taken for granted. It is packed with clear and easy to follow instructions to learn the bread and butter of building hardware projects.

In contrast to academic publications this book is very welcoming to people from a wide variety of backgrounds. It’s rich body of illustrations makes learning electronics even appealing to the eye. Who would have thought that’s possible?

The book walks 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 an software engineer you will probably feel a little bored, as 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 quickly again.

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! 😉

Here you can find Eric & Jody’s book.

2. Arduino Applied: Comprehensive Projects for Everyday Electronics

by Neil Cameron

At one point during your hardware journey you probably will start using microcontrollers. The Arduino platform is a fantastic first starting point. Before using those boards, I recommend to understand what an Arduino board actually is from an electrical perspective.

Neil Cameron has enlighten me with his fantastic project on how to build an Arduino from scratch. There, he describes in easy to follow words the central Integrated Circuit (IC), commonly knows as “chip” and the electrical components which complete the microcontroller.

The project is part of his book “Arduino Applied: Comprehensive Projects for everyday electronics”. Around the Arduino project Neil has group many other project which focus specific hardware pieces like “humidity sensor”, “LCD display”, “joystick”, etc. That’s very refreshing as Neil skips the typical use case focused beginner projects like the omnipresent “intrusion detector”. Here, Neil really has put together a great collection of examples which I use as a starting point to spin up my own projects.

As soon as you start of with microcontrollers or explore more complex technical components Neil’s book is a fantastic investment.

Here you can find Neil’s book

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 all the math right, we previously skipped for the sake of seeing fast results. At this point it becomes time to start to catch up. Paul’s well perceived “Practical Electronics for Inventors” is exactly what you are looking for at this point in time!

Don’t let the over 1000 pages (kindle version) scare you off. I use it as a look up the in-depth technical answers to my question which come up during some projects.

Getting Paul’s book becomes a no-brainer at one point. Don’t expect it to be any helpful to get into hardware!

Here you can find Paul’s book

4. Connecting Arduino to the Web - Front End Development Using JavaScript

by Indira Knight

When the time has come to finally unite both worlds - electronics and the web, there is a great book to support your learning! “Connecting Arduino to the Web - Front End Development Using JavaScript” by Indira Knight teaches you how to develop physical prototypes and connect them to the web. It’s a great start of point for getting into IoT Projects.

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!

Here you can find Indira’s Book

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 habe been the wrong point in time when I looked into it, but I had a hard time to get something out of it.

It turns out, I am not the only one! 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 “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, it can’t be directly translated into days of the #100DaysOfHardware challenge, but it’s much closer than any other academic book I looked into.

I recommend reading the book when you start to face complex challenges in your own project and you need examples to get started with. It e.g. covers a voltage divider, nothing I would have graved to build by my own, but as part of a larger project, it was the first thing I needed to build to actually power all components from the same power source. Therefore Thomas’ book is priceless!

Here you can find Thomas’ book