One of the questions I often get from people considering engineering management as the next step in their career is – what books should I read to learn more? What courses have you found useful? Engineering management is a completely new job from being a software engineer, and you need to learn many new skills.
I’m going to share a list of books that I have found useful during my management journey during the last 3+ years. Just for fun I’m going to pretend I’m making up some self-directed courses.
Management 101: Fundamentals
These are two short and concise books I recommend to anyone considering becoming a manager.
The Manager’s Path (earlier review) by Camille Fournier. Each chapter in this book describes a possible progression in your career from individual contributor, to mentoring an intern, to tech lead and all the way to CTO.
Resilient Management by Lara Hogan
- Thinking about your leadership style – what do you optimize for? Building up your teammates? Setting strategy and delivering business goals? How do you communicate that with your team?
- The difference between mentoring, coaching and sponsoring and the dynamics of how underrepresented folks are not sponsored as much as they are given advice.
- How to coach teammates to give feedback to each other instead of reaching out to their manager to deliver the feedback
- The feedback equation approach to giving feedback (which I use all the time – so useful and effective)
- How to set clear expectations (Who is responsible, accountable, consulted and informed with respect to a project or a decision)
- How to set the team’s vision and how that feeds into the mission, strategy and objectives of the team.
- How to plan communication of new information or a decision through the organization (I love this section – effective communication of decisions and changes is so often an afterthought in organization yet so crucial to getting everyone aligned on gaining a shared understanding of the path forward)
- How to deal with misalignment on a team – how to deal with communicating a decision that you don’t agree with or that you have been tasked to deliver.
- How to adjust your communication for different audiences. Sharing the impact of a project to a senior engineer is different how you would communicate the impact to a director of engineering.
Management 102: Feedback, Culture and Feelings
Perhaps your first impression of being an engineering manager that it’s all going to be about shipping amazing products. However, a lot of the work is coaching people to provide feedback on how they can do their best work, negotiating priorities and resources with your team and adjacent teams, and understanding the cultural underpinnings of how people communicate and receive feedback.
Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving feedback well by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen
Thanks for the Feedback discusses the different types of feedback (appreciation, coaching and evaluation) and how to seek to understand someone else’s pespective and navigate relationship triggers. Krupa who is one of my extraordinary former manager colleagues ran a book club with her team to discuss this book. This allowed the team to learn how to give each other effective feedback with the same shared understanding. 🌟 manager!
The Culture Map by Erin Meyer. Communication, defining goals and establishing trust vary by culture and these differences show up in the workplace. Understanding how to navigate these differences is crucial as a leader where teams and organizations span countries. For instance, people in some cultures may be quite hierarchical and defer to authority and thus be resistant to providing feedback to someone who is at a higher level. Other people who live in different cultures are quite confrontational and quick to challenge assumptions.
No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotions at Work by Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy
I love this book so much! The cartoons that illustrate various team scenarios make it memorable and thought-provoking. The underlying theme of the book is that that people experience many emotions as they navigate work and interacting with each other in the workplace. The books provides strategies to deal with them to work more effectively and avoid burnout. The book covers topics like motivation, autonomy, interviewing, checklists and decision making, team communication dynamics.
It describes how to manage other people emotions as leader and establish a healthy team culture. As well, it talks about the strategies for dealing with distributed teams and their communication needs. It’s a book that I refer to over and over for difficult team situations.
Management 201: Fundamentals with more funny stories
The Making of a Manager by Julie Zhuo I really enjoyed the chapter on Managing Yourself, Hiring Well and Making Things Happen. The Managing Yourself chapter has a series of questions you can go through as a manager to understand your strengths and areas for development. Also, the cartoons are whimsical and funny.
How F*cked up is your Management by Melissa and Johnathan Nightingale. Stories from the trenches of engineering leadership. Their latest work Unmanageable is also excellent and describes how to be an effective leader during one of the most challenging periods of our lives. It describes strategies on how to be empathetic to employees and but still deliver the work during a worldwide pandemic.
97 Things Ever Manager Should Know edited by Camille Fournier. This book consists of discrete chapters by different authors on various topics such as increasing employee engagement through growth (thank you Amy!), how to be the manager that your report needs, organizational design and communication on distributed teams.
Minority Leader by Stacey Abrams describes navigating her path to leadership in a system where you are
underepresented underestimated. Very relevant to any leader on the steps to gain trust, remove roadblocks and navigate the path you want in life. I was also impressed by her stories about how she got to know all the assistants of the legislators she was working with to pass new legislation.
The Art of the Gathering: How we meet and why it matters by Priya Parker isn’t a describes in detail how to organize events and meetings to facilitate genuine conversations. Highly recommended.
Management 201 – Planning and prioritizing work, setting goals and organizational design
Making Work Visible by Dominic Degrandis describes the five thieves of time in a work environment and tooling and strategies to make that work visible and properly prioritize the work.
Team Topologies by Matthew Skelton and Manuel Pais. During university, I used to think that organizational design was a very boring topic to study. Now I think that you can learn a lot about culture, priorities and where power lies by looking at at org chart. Laura, who was my director in previous role once said once that we reorganize teams because the problems we are solving change. Another previous manager Patricia mentioned she thought about interactions between teams as an API. I still think about both those concepts a lot. In any case, this book provides strategies to organize teams to minimize cognitive load, optimize communication, discusses Conway’s Law and why it matters and when should you consider splitting up a large team. If you are interested in organizational design this is the book to dive into!
Radical Focus by Christina Wodke (previous review) is a fable about a startup which has a lack of focus and how they recalibrated to focus on the most important work to succeed.
Accelerate by Nicole Forsgren Jez Humble Gene Kim (previous review) I refer to this book all the time. It is one of my all time favourite tech and business books. It describes in research based detail why it’s so important to focus on the following metrics for software delivery time and how that correlates with the performance of your business.
Management 201: Special Topics
Mentoring Programs that Work – My colleague Melissa was the driving force behind the company mentoring program at a previous company and recommended this book to me. If you are looking to establish a mentoring program, it has all the background material, templates and planning guidelines you need.
First 90 Days by Micheal D. Watkins If you are starting a new job, this book describes some strategies to get up to speed faster and become productive in your new role. It also discusses the five common business situations that leaders may find themselves in as they start a new job – start-up, turnaround, accelerated growth, realignment and sustaining success.
Demystifying Public Speaking by Lara Hogan covers all the essentials of building a good presentation from deciding on a topic, crafting slides, getting feedback and all the logistics of being a speaker at a conference.
What books did you find useful when you became a manager?
Thank you for this awesome post, Kim! I have shared it with other managers here, and with people I know who are looking to move into engineering management. Your recommendations and the extracts you’ve included are so relevant and valuable.
Wow, amazing post! I really appreciate the recommendations. Until now, I’ve just gone (or I’m in the process of going) through a couple of books from your list, but I will definitely come back to this post in my new journey as Engineering Manager. Thank you!