My favourite engineering management books

Filed under technical • Tagged: Books, Engineering, Management

Engineering management is still a somewhat esoteric discipline. I’ve never met an engineering manager who had formal management training, and most people have the position thrust upon them and figure it out day-to-day.

That said, there are some excellent reads out there that will make you feel less like you’re losing your mind in the first year.

My first recommendation to newly-minted managers is The Making of a Manager by Julie Zhuo. It’s not specifically about engineering management, but it is the best general introduction to the kind of problems you’ll be encountering when everyone starts looking to you for answers. Julie starts out from the beginning—of suddenly being thrust into a position of leadership and not having a clue what’s expected. The advice is free of jargon, down-to-earth and very practical. It should give you the confidence that what you need to learn is not some crazy new ideas, but a structured way of helping people. The People—Purpose—Process trifecta is one I still refer to frequently.

Secondly, something more engineering specific: The Manager’s Path by Camille Fournier. This book goes into more detail after you’ve settled into the basic routine of management. There is a greater focus on career tracks in engineering so it might be a bit to deep for someone who’s just starting out.

Next up, An Elegant Puzzle by Will Larson. Will worked at Calm, Stripe and Uber through their high-growth periods. This book is another step up and considers a lot of difficult questions around team size and how to structure an engineering organisation in a systematic and strategic way. I originally bought the audiobook version of this and it was one of the worst things I’ve ever listened to—you need time to absorb the information, not a robot reading it to you. The real book is very attractive and worth buying. It’s crammed full of information.

Finally, another non-engineering specific book: Radical Candour by Kim Scott. Feedback will be a big part of your job and Radical Candour is frequently recommended to people in all roles that require giving feedback. The advice can be applied to many parts of your life, but will be especially useful in being honest with your team and giving them the guidance they need to grow.

If you want a taster, here’s the author explaining Radical Candour in a 6 minute video:

—Dan Bartlett
11 Nov 2021

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