My Engineering Management Reading List

If you attempt to figure out how to deal with people as an engineer-turned-manager, you will find that in the engineering management field only a handful of useful resources are available.

The following list, while not comprehensive, offers a sampling of the most popular publications.

Managing Humans

Managing Humans by Michael Lopp is a collection of blog posts that was posted on randsinrepose.com (he refers himself as Rands in his blog posts). Lopp's written style is very conversational and he likes to use fictional characters which helps to visualize these stories. Lopp/Rands covers a lot of ground, such as effective 1:1's, how to deal with crises like sharing bad news, or delivering a mandate.

If I need to mention a few flaws, I would say that this book does not really have any real structure and certain topics could feel a bit outdated (like the ones on off-sites, the DNA meeting, three superpowers, etc.). That said, from all the books/blogs I read on management, Lopp's style is my favorite.

Below you can find the summary of the Rands Test that can assess the health of your engineering team:

- Do you have a 1:1?

- Do you have a team meeting?

- Do you have status reports?

- Can you say "no" to your boss?

- Can you explain the strategy of the company to a stranger?

- Can you explain the current state of business?

- Does the guy/gal in charge regularly stand up in front of everyone and tell you what he/she is thinking? Are you buying it?

- Do you know what you want to do next? Does your boss?

- Do you have time to be strategic?

- Are you actively killing the Grapevine?

Team Geek

Team Geek is an easy-to-read book written by Brian W. Fitzpatrick, Ben Collins-Sussman (two Google employees) on how to work well together while developing software in a team setting. There is a lot to like here. The first few chapters are pretty much a mandatory read for most teams. While there is nothing new here (ideas like you are not your code, lose the ego, emphasize key values like Humility, Respect and Trust, and empathy, empathy, empathy), the authors successfully dispel the notion that anyone can get away with being an asshole, just because they can code well.

Then there is an entire chapter on various leadership patterns and anti-patterns (don't lower your hiring bar, don't be afraid of hiring smarter people than yourself, take care of your team, various motivation techniques, etc.). In the last chapter you get to know your product user's point of view as well.

I found a few minor annoyances with this book:

- the whole thing reads like a Google advertisement (this may or may not bother you)

- some of the topics will be relevant to you only if you are at a bigger company (like Google)

- there is something about Servant leadership and the way it was referenced in the book in various contexts that rubbed me the wrong way. Maybe because the term was overused in the tech press in the last few years? I am not sure.

The more you are open to influence, the more you are able to influence; the more vulnerable you are, the stronger you appear.

Peopleware

Peopleware was recommended to me by @jboner. It's a classic. It features many similar themes to the books above (importance of communication and peer reviews, futility of measuring productivity, how to kill teamwork, etc.) however, it's generally more research driven and less buzzword-heavy than say Team Geek. I really liked the chapters on why it's important to focus on keeping teams together and measuring employee turnaround. Also, the chapter on environmental issues was very eye-opening to me (I often underestimated the importance of these problems). I had mixed feelings only about the piece on the harm that competition causes within a team. I was never a huge a fan of the everybody gets a trophy strategy that's so popular not only in management literature, but also in our school system. Finally, here is my favorite quote from the book:

The group's adherence to a corporate standard of uniformity is almost a symbol of the manager's degree of control.

It's ironic that 15 years after the first edition of this book was published corporate could easily be swapped with startup.

Shanley on management and Model View Culture

Shanley Kane's medium collection tackles a few important subjects that I did not see covered anywhere else. Tools to analyze disfunction in engineering culture, 10X engineer myth, and microagressions at workplaces were all great pieces! Finally, I would recommend reading her various posts on diversity in tech and her latest venture, Model View Culture, that covers technology, culture and diversity.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things

This book was the hardest to digest. While it's super easy to read, oftentimes I felt like I was reading an autobiography combined with a PR pamphlet. For starters, we are made aware of how Ben Horowitz became friends with a black person and how he met his wife (and consequently, how perfect their marriage has been ever since). What's more, there is a weird mystification of being CEO throughout the book. A few examples:

Being a CEO also requires a broad set of more advanced skills, but the key to reaching the advanced level and feeling like you were born to be CEO is mastering the unnatural.

There is no prototype for the perfect CEO. Radically different styles — think Steve Jobs, Bill Cambell, and Andy Groove— can all lead to great outcomes. Perhaps the most important attribute required to be a successful CEO is leadership.

The other day a friend of mine asked me whether CEOs were born or made. I said " that's like asking if Jolly Ranchers are grown or made. CEO is an unnatural job

I often joke that I am considered to be a much better CEO now than I was when I was actually CEO. These days people sometime refer to me as management guru...

And there are these useless fillers too:

The problem with psychology is that everybody's is different.

In the technology business you rarely know everything up front.

On the positive side, Horowitz discusses quite a few interesting topics like how to lay off people (including executives), demoting, titles and promotions, accountability vs. credibility etc.

While this was my least favorite title from this bunch (mainly due to its style), I would still recommend this book, if nothing else to see how successful CEOs think.