Three books for engineers who want to jump to management
Updated: Nov 5, 2020
Once they become senior enough, many software engineers are usually given an option to lead a team. Some of those engineers want to try it out while others wish to stay as individual contributors. When someone comes to me for advice in transitioning to management I recommend three books to help them switch from engineering mindset to people mindset.
1. Leadership and Self Deception: Getting Out of the Box by The Arbringer Institute
I picked that book up when I was searching for something to have my team read when we were consistently encountering a lot of conflicts and disagreements. We'd have meetings were one engineer would snap at another just because they disagreed on how many story points we should give a Jira task. After we read the book, we had an open discussion about what we could adopt and within a week everyone became best buddies. Quite the miracle!
It's a short and simple book that reads like a novel.
2. What got you here won't get you there: How successful people become even more successful by Marshall Goldsmith
This book was recommended to me by my ex-manager at Netflix when I asked for advice on how to build a 100 person team as I was moving to Japan. I didn't read it though until my executive coach mentioned it to me again in one of our sessions. If two people who've been where I'm going tell me the same thing it's a good time to bump it up the priority list.
It's a book you can read in parts since it's full of those tips that totally make sense when you hear them.
The Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Playbook of Silicon Valley's Bill Campbell by Eric Schmidt
I picked up that book after hearing about it during Eric Schmidt's interview at the Tim Ferriss Show. I wanted to hear how the leaders of the top companies in the world handle difficult situations and politics. It turns out the Trillion Dollar Coach had better answers than playing politics. All you need is some tough love and understanding of others.
It's a book that will hook you as you get a behind-the-scenes look of the top decision makers in Silicon Valley.
All three books ultimately make the same argument: empathy is more important for creating technology at scale than great technical skills. Of course you need to know your stuff in order to manage a team of other smart engineers, but what will ultimately help you to not cripple the team is to see them as people and help them see the same in each other. Once the ego is gone the team will be humming like The Beatles.