I ordered Camille Fournier’s book on engineering management when it was in pre-order. I was delighted to read when in arrived in the mail. If you work in the tech industry, manager or not, this book is a must read.
The book is a little over 200 pages but it packs much more succinct and use useful advice that other longer books on this topic that I’ve read in the past. It takes a unique approach in that the first chapters describes what to expect from your manager, as a new individual contributor. Each chapter then moves to how to help others as a mentor, a tech lead, managing other people, to managing the a team, to a manager of multiple teams and further up the org chart. At the end of each chapter, there are questions for you that relate to the chapter to assess your own experience with the material.
Some of the really useful advice in the book
- Choose your manager wisely, consider who you will be reporting to when interviewing. “Strong managers know how to play the game at their company. They can get you promoted; the can get you attention and feedback from important people. Strong managers have strong networks, and can get you jobs every after you stop working for them.”
- How to be a great tech lead – understand the architecture, be a team player, lead technical discussions, communicate “Your productivity is now less important than the productivity of the whole team….If one universal talent separates successful leaders from the pack, it’s communication skills. Successful leaders write well, they read carefully, and they can get up in front of a group and speak.”
- On transitioning to a job managing a team “As much as you may want to believe that management is a natural progression of the skills you develop as a senior engineer, it’s really a whole new set of skills and challenges.” So many people think that and don’t take the time to learn new skills before taking on the challenge of managing a team.
- One idea I thought was really fantastic was to create a 30/60/90 day plan for new hires or new team members to establish clear goals to ensure they are meeting expectations on getting up to speed.
- Camille also discusses the perils of micromanagement and how this can be a natural inclination for people who were deeply technical before becoming managers. Instead of focusing on the technical details, you need to focus on giving people autonomy over their work, to keep them motivated and engaged.
- On giving performance reviews – use concrete examples from anonymous peer reviews to avoid bias. Spent plenty of time preparing, start early and focus on accomplishments and strengths. When describing areas for improvement, keep it focused. Avoid surprises during the review process. If a person is under-performing, the review process should not be the first time they learn this.
- From the section on debugging dysfunctional teams, the example was given of a team that wasn’t shipping the team only released once a week and the release process was very time consuming and painful. Once the release process was more automated and occurred more regularly – the team became more productive. In other words, sometimes dysfunctional teams are due to resource constraints or broken processes.
- Be kind, not nice. It’s kind to tell someone that they aren’t ready for promotion and describe the steps that they need to get to the next level. It’s not kind to tell someone that they should get promoted, but watch them fail. It’s kind to tell someone that their behaviour is disruptive, and that they need to change it.
- Don’t be afraid. Avoiding conflict because of fear will not resolve the problems on your team.
- “As you grow more into leadership positions, people will look to you for behavioral guidance. What you want to teach them in how to focus. To that end, there are two areas I encourage you to practice modeling, right now: figuring out what’s important, and going home.” 💯💯💯
- Suggestions for roadmapping uncertainty – be realistic about the probability of change, break down projects into smaller your deliverables so that if you don’t implement the entire larger project, you have still implemented some of the project’s intended results.
- Chapter 9 on bootstrapping culture discusses how the role of a senior engineering leader is not just to set technical direction, but to be clear and thoughtful about setting the culture of the engineering team.
- I really like this paragraph on hiring for the values of the team
- The bootstrapping culture chapter finishes with notes about code review, running outage postmortems and architectural reviews which all have very direct and useful advice.
This book describes concrete and concise steps to be an effective leader as you progress through your career. It also features the voices and perspectives of women in leadership, something some well-known books lack. I’ve read a lot of management books over the years, and while some have jewels of wisdom, I haven’t read one that is this densely packed with useful content. It really makes you think – what is the most important thing I can be doing now to help others make progress and be happy with their work?
I’ve also found the writing, talks and perspectives of the following people on engineering leadership invaluable