Updated April 13, 2021
Books are a powerful technology used to effectively transfer ideas from smart and knowledgable practitioners to a theoretically unlimited number of people. Great books are one of the most time- and cost-efficient ways to learn and level up your career.
These are books that I’ve read and recommend for engineering managers. Books in each section are listed roughly in the order I recommend them.
(Links below go to Amazon; they are not associate links.)
- Camille Fournier, The Manager’s Path. This consistently gets excellent reviews from those I recommend it to. Fournier walks the reader through a career path from individual contributor to VP/CTO level.
- Will Larson, An Elegant Puzzle. Excellent, practical, hands-on guidance.
- Michael Lopp, The Art of Leadership: Small Things, Done Well. My review and notes.
- Michael Lopp, Being Geek: The Software Developer’s Career Handbook and Managing Humans: Biting and Humorous Tales of a Software Engineering Manager. A conversational story-based introduction to core management topics. Based on the content of Rands in Repose.
- Johanna Rothman and Esther Derby, Behind Closed Doors: Secrets of Great Management.
- Mickey Mantle and Ron Lichty, Managing the Unmanageable.
- Tom DeMarco and Tim Lister, Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams.
Leadership and being an executive
- Andy Grove, High Output Management. A classic without a wasted word. If I had to recommend one book this would be it.
- Peter Drucker, The Effective Executive. The language is dated, but one of the best introductions to thinking like an executive.
- Mark Horstman, The Effective Hiring Manager. The best book on interviewing I’ve read.
- David Marquet, Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders. I was prepared not to like it, but it is an excellent and readable book on leadership. Most useful is its discussions briefing vs. certification, and the relationship between competence and autonomy.
- Ben Horowitz, What You Do Is Who You Are. The best book on corporate culture I’ve read.
- Colin Bryar and Bill Carr, Working Backwards: Insights, Stories, and Secrets from Inside Amazon. Full of insights on how Amazon achieves operational excellence.
- Manager Tools (podcasts). Mark Horstman can be a bit much and many people find his personality insufferable. That said, this material has helped me in numerous and practical ways, particularly on the fundamentals early in my career. If this material speaks to you, I recommend paying for the yearly subscription so you can search and read the shownotes.
- David H Maister, Managing the Professional Service Firm. This is aimed at running a consulting organization, so you probably want to skip most of it. But its chapters on your personal strategic plan, how to build human capital, and the motivation crisis are excellent.
- Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t. How to think of the business as a whole.
- Kim Scott, Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity. This book is about so much more than just telling it like it is, and is essential reading for all managers.
- Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, How To Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk. Yes, it’s a book about parenting. But the concepts apply to all humans.
- Kerry Patterson, Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High.
- Chris Voss and Tahl Raz, Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It. Applicable to any situation where you seek consensus among disagreement.
- Jez Humble and David Farley, Continuous Delivery: Reliable Software Releases through Build, Test, and Deployment Automation.
- Site Reliability Engineering: How Google Runs Production Systems. (Free online book, print book also available). A good overview of SRE at Google and an introduction to the practice.
- Eliyahu Goldratt, The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement. A “business novel” that has a good illustration of the theory of constraints, which informs Kanban. There is a lot of value here, but be advised it contains some early 80’s casual sexism.
- Gene Kim, The Phoenix Project: A Novel about IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win. Business novel. The modern spiritual successor to The Goal, applied to IT.
- Gene Kim, The Unicorn Project: A Novel about Developers, Digital Disruption, and Thriving in the Age of Data. Business novel. My review and notes.
- Alexander Grosse and David Loftesness, Scaling Teams: Strategies for Building Successful Teams and Organizations. The definitive book for organizing software engineering teams.
- Sriram Narayan, Agile IT Organization Design. Another take. Not my very favorite, but I liked it’s focus on accountability.
- High Output Management and An Elegant Puzzle, above, also talk about this problem.
- David Allen, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity . Essential for keeping your work and life under control.
Business and finance
- Karen Berman, Joe Knight, John Case, Financial Intelligence for Entrepreneurs: What You Really Need to Know About the Numbers A clear, approachable introduction to financial statements and how to think about the money part of a business. Which in the end is the only part of the business that counts.