Engineering management is a prestigious career step for most software engineers. Alcor is an expert in recruiting professional developers and tech leads, so we know it takes a lot of hard work and dedication to become an engineering manager. In this position, technical and managerial skills are interrelated, thus both merit and pitfall in the same breath.
Hence is the question: How do you acquire the knowledge to become a qualified engineering leader? A 2022 Engineering Management report from Coding Sans illustrates that 62% of engineering managers prefer reading books as a way of learning in their jobs. That’s why today I will share my book recommendations to help you navigate the challenges of IT management.
How Did We Choose the Must-Read Books?
At Alcor, we are eager to share knowledge and promote life-long learning, so when I brought up a specific list of books on leadership and management as an idea to our team, they were excited about distilling their experience into book recommendations.
Being aware that there is no book about IT management that would cover it all, we focused on the key things that define a technical leader: the knowledge of project management methodologies, communication, and decision-making. Additionally, since we don’t have technical managers on board the Alcor team, we consulted our IT recruitment clients and gathered the most relevant comments on tech aspects of engineering management. Guided by these principles, I compiled a list of advised books and even more — a list of books you don’t have to read even though everybody says you should.
Eye-Opening Books on Engineering Leadership and Software Management
#1 The Manager’s Path by Camille Fournier
This book is a must-read as it lives up to the promise of its title and shows you a path from engineer to manager. It is a treasure trove both for entry-level managers and seasoned leaders since it walks you through all the stages — from mentoring newbies to interacting with senior programmers — and offers actionable advice on how to overcome obstacles on the way. All in all, if you’re looking for an outline of your career, you’re in the right place.
#2 Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams by Tom DeMarco & Tim Lister
Old but gold. Although written in 1987, this book is packed with insights on how to shape a productive team and avoid conflict between individual and corporate values. It is one of the best books to remind us of a simple truth: people are at the core of management, software development being no exception. And if that sounds too obvious now, read to find out more about such concepts as team jelling, flow time, corporate entropy, teamicide and workspace theory.
#3 Rapid Development: Taming Wild Software Schedules by Steve McConnell
Ever struggled with unproductive meetings, poorly written code, or a dysfunctional team during your career as a tech lead or CTO? This book is here to help you out and tame schedules, expectations, procrastination, and more. Though there are lots of remote team management tools to give you a hand in planning, it is a go-to source for classic mistakes and solutions, risk management fundamentals, and rules of thumb for effective teamwork. Discover your best practices and enjoy your reading!
#4 The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement by Eliyahu M. Goldratt
A business classic for saving your projects. Simply put, it highlights what you should focus on by elaborating on the theory of constraints — a methodology that helps identify the most limiting factor, a so-called bottleneck, and improve it, so it no longer affects your workflow. More than that, it’s told in a form of a story and is quite an approachable and easy read. And even though the plot is about manufacturing issues, it makes this book no less relevant for software product development.
#5 The Phoenix Project: A Novel about IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win by Gene Kim
Inspired by The Goal, The Phoenix Project is an even more applicable book for engineering managers. The story revolves around a company and its seemingly infeasible code project, which is way over budget and past any deadlines. The main character has ninety days to prevent the project from falling through the cracks, or else his entire department is subject to outsourcing. With all the bumps in the road, this book showcases a way to develop a plan for a fast-paced workflow, and with the leading characters being software engineers, you will certainly relate to its description of the IT sphere.
#6 Managing Humans by Michael Lopp
This book draws on the author’s experience of working at the companies widely known in Silicon Valley — Apple, Borland, Netscape, and Symantec. It reveals that being a manager of genius developers is a tough task since bright individuals can often make a dysfunctional team and, what is more, software development is usually at odds with standard management approaches. It also offers several tips on conducting productive meetings and one-on-ones, plus motivating bored employees. Whether you’re only an aspiring manager or a professional in top management already, you will surely find a few insightful gems in the stories shown here.
#7 The Decision Maker by Dennis Bakke
According to the author, decision-making is the best way to develop people. His ideas are based on his experience at Harvard Business School. Bakke made loads of decisions with the help of the case-study approach. The book argues in favor of decentralized decision making and reminds us that leaders are not the only decision makers in the team. Furthermore, any decision should be validated by other experts. The importance of powerful decision making can hardly be overestimated — after all, it’s one of the main managerial skills. You might not see it as a book about engineering leadership, but it equips you with the best practices of software team management — namely, how to tap into the potential of your developers.
#8 Radical Candor by Kim Scott
Radical candor is about striking a balancing act between being an arrogant and aggressive manager or being overly empathetic yet not getting things done. Kim Scott justifies challenging the opinions of your team, but also expands on honest feedback that mixes praise and criticism, while still focusing on candor and integrity. The ultimate goal is to build great relationships with your teammates, which makes this book invaluable for a technical manager.
Top Books for Software Managers Everyone Recommends but You Actually Don’t Need to Read
#1 How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
Almost every list of recommended books about software management includes this famous page-turner. However, the key takeaways can be summed up in a few main points: criticize wisely, praise wholeheartedly, and opt for asking questions instead of giving orders. Other pieces of advice are well-known to a modern professional — remember people’s names, avoid pointing out the mistakes directly and dramatizing them, use encouragement and listen actively. Voila, no need to flip through the pages!
#2 Start with Why by Simon Sinek
This motivational book shares a framework to build organizations, lead movements and empower people, which is why it is indispensable for improving engineering leadership. Simon Sinek distinguishes leaders from all other people and emphasizes the points which, in his opinion, make them stand out. The idea is summarized under the name of The Golden Circle. Although the book itself is a quick read, you can get the gist by listening to a TED Talk given by Simon Sinek. It will help you make sense of the main idea and, if you are opento get more inspired, you can then read the book after.
#3 The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier
Coaching is all the rage these days, but don’t let yourself be fooled by short-lasting fads. The most responsible part is covering all the management basics, especially because software project management differs from other spheres. Once you find your feet in managing all types of tech teams, be it on-site, remote, or offshore, then coaching is your next step, but don’t rush to read this particular book just because it ranks high in the lists of books for CTOs.
#4 Lean from the Trenches: Managing Large-Scale Projects with Kanban by Henrik Kniberg,
#5 Essential Scrum: A Practical Guide to the Most Popular Agile Process by Kenneth S. Rubin
The Agile methodology is widely accepted in information technology development, so I suppose every tech manager is familiar with Scrum and Kanban. While these books on technology management are certainly indispensable on the whole, consulting them if you feel you have enough experience is completely up to you.
Do You Need to Expand Your Team With the Best IT Talents?
Although insightful books on engineering management help tech specialists reach a senior manager position, it is hard to determine the candidate’s readiness when it comes to hiring an engineering manager. We at Alcor specialize in recruiting senior IT specialists with rare tech stacks. With a decade of experience in IT recruitment in Eastern Europe, we have mastered the art of finding outstanding candidates, engineering managers, and tech leads included. Let’s look at how we did it for our clients.
Similarly, we closed a Deployment Lead position for Ledger, a French cryptocurrency and NFT company, and this professional is still contributing to the Ledger team. Other than that, our cooperation with Ledger resulted in 27 hires in total. Alcor is so efficient because our recruiters quickly spot the right fit by bringing out the candidate’s motivation, analyzing their tech skills and previous experience. All in all, a tech pool of 600,000+ software developers in Eastern Europe and our proven track record help us discover the gems in the sphere.
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