Learning System Design: Top 5 Essential Reads

Learning System Design: Top 5 Essential Reads
Image by Author | DALLE-3 & Canva


System design can be daunting. At least, I felt this way when I wanted to learn system design as a beginner. The latest trends and buzzwords make it more difficult to know what to learn and where to start. But don’t worry! In this article, I will suggest a great starting point for beginners and explain why it’s crucial to learn system design.

System design is an integral component of designing large-scale applications, forming the backbone of applications like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and countless others. It is essential to design applications that ensure reliable operations, scale effectively with increasing demand, and remain maintainable for the programmers working on the system.

To grasp the fundamental system design concepts and write quality code, I recommend exploring these books. They also serve as a useful resource for preparing for technical interviews at top companies worldwide. This list combines personal recommendations with general popularity among programmers. Let’s get started then!


1. Head First Design Patterns

Author: Eric Freeman, Elisabeth Robson, Bert Bates, Kathy Sierra
Link: Head First Design Patterns


Head First Design Patterns


A personal recommendation! A beginner-friendly guide for System Design Patterns and Architectural Patterns. This guide uses visual aids, flowcharts, and UML diagrams to build up simple examples from scratch. Using Java’s object-oriented principles, the book makes it easy to learn prevalent design patterns like the iterator, observer, strategy, and singleton, which are commonly used in production-grade code.


Topics Covered:

  • Creational Patterns (Singleton, Factory Method and Abstract Factory Method)
  • Structural Patterns (Adapter, Facade, Proxy, Decorator)
  • Behavioural Patterns (Strategy, Observer, Iterator, State, Template Method)
  • Composite Pattens
  • Application Architectures and MVC Pattern


2. Patterns of Enterprise Application Architecture


Author: Martin Fowler
Link: Patterns of Enterprise Application Architecture


Patterns of Enterprise Application ArchitecturePatterns of Enterprise Application Architecture


For those looking for a deeper dive into design patterns, this book is a great resource. It tackles complex design pattern concepts in a theoretical manner, making it a valuable reference guide whenever you’re stuck on a design choice. It covers similar topics as the Head First book, but goes further in-depth (detailed explanations and UML diagrams), making it a great resource for software engineers seeking a comprehensive understanding of design patterns.


Topics Covered:

  • Layered Architectures
  • Concurrency
  • Domain Logic and Relational Databases
  • Web Presentation
  • Distributive Systems
  • Design Patterns


3. Clean Architecture


Author: Rober C. Martin
Link: Clean Architecture


Clean ArchitectureClean Architecture


This book, written by the renowned Uncle Bob, is part of his highly acclaimed series on Clean Code. He writes from the perspective of a software architect, sharing his insights on the decisions he makes when designing a reliable and scalable system. He emphasizes the importance of independence, decoupling programming choices from specific databases, tools, and languages, making it a must-read for any software developer looking to improve their skills.


Topics Covered:

  • Programming Paradigms (Structured, OOP, Functional)
  • SOLID Design Principles
  • Component Principles (Cohesion, Coupling, Reuse, Closure)
  • Architectural Principles


4. Designing Data-Intensive Applications

Author: Martin Kleppmann
Link: Designing Data-Intensive Applications


Designing Data-Intensive ApplicationsDesigning Data-Intensive Applications


Another personal recommendation and one of the most highly detailed books about system design. It thoroughly covers the main principles behind system design and explains why things work the way they do. The book is divided into three major parts: Foundation of Data Systems, Distributed Data, and Derived Data. The first part explores the basic foundations of data storage systems, query languages, and retrieval methods for large-scale systems. The second part focuses on the development of distributed systems, emphasizing the importance of consistent systems. The final part focuses on batch processing and stream processing of large-scale data systems.


Topics Covered:

  • Data Models and Query Languages
  • Storage and Retrieval
  • Replication and Transaction Systems
  • Distributed Systems
  • Consistency
  • Batch Processing
  • Stream Processing


5. System Design Interview

Author: Alex Xu
Link: System Design Interview


System Design InterviewSystem Design Interview


Finally, system design is an important part of job interviews at the top tech companies including MAANG. This book by Google engineer Alex Xu is a popular interview preparation material that covers a wide range of topics. It provides a 4-step framework for tackling system design interview questions and features detailed solutions for 16 real-world applications, accompanied by diagrams. Additionally, it explains the design decisions behind major systems like Twitter, Google, and YouTube.


Topics Covered:

  • Interview Process Overview
  • Framework for Interview Process
  • System Design Fundamentals (Caching, Databases, Partitioning, Load Balancing)
  • Architectural Techniques (Monolithic, Microservices, Serverless)
  • Case Studies (Designing Web Crawler, Chat system, YouTube, Google Drive etc)


Wrapping Up

If you’re a beginner feeling confused about where to start, these books are your go-to resources to prepare for your next system design interview. From covering the basic concepts behind data systems to the highly detailed decisions behind popular software systems, these books cover it all. If you feel overwhelmed by the hype around system design, starting here will make it less intimidating.


Kanwal Mehreen Kanwal is a machine learning engineer and a technical writer with a profound passion for data science and the intersection of AI with medicine. She co-authored the ebook “Maximizing Productivity with ChatGPT”. As a Google Generation Scholar 2022 for APAC, she champions diversity and academic excellence. She’s also recognized as a Teradata Diversity in Tech Scholar, Mitacs Globalink Research Scholar, and Harvard WeCode Scholar. Kanwal is an ardent advocate for change, having founded FEMCodes to empower women in STEM fields.

Recent Articles

Related Stories

Leave A Reply

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here