Reading List - Managing Engineers
In May 2016, I was offered the chance to manage the Twitter Dashboard team. This was my first opportunity to manage engineers and I was very conflicted about switching over from a SWE to an EM. As a software engineer, you are generally only responsible for the trajectory of your own career. As an engineering manager, you have a large potential impact on the careers and even lives of all the people you manage. Ultimately I decided to take the opportunity but that I was obligated to do the work to improve my skills to be the best manager I could be.
You never think the Peter principle is a thing until it happens to you. Which is to say that most of my team has an idiot for a manager now.— Arne R-🔙🔛🔝🔜-K (@kurrik) May 25, 2016
Managing engineers is itself a skill, and one that is incredibly difficult to cultivate unless you are already managing a team. There’s no shortage of writing about ways to improve programming skills, but I found it difficult to gather good advice on learning to manage teams. So I’m listing the resources which I found useful and hope to update this list as I find more. This isn’t to say that I applied all of the advice given, but the perspectives were important as I developed my own approach.
Rands in Repose. Michael Lopp writes beautiful, thoughtful advice on managing engineers. He dives into specific areas of management where good managers excel and poor managers fall down. I’ve found How to Recruit, Triggers, Bored People Quit, and Chaotic Beautiful Snowflakes especially notable, but the whole archive is worth browsing.
Pmarca Guide to Career Planning. Marc Andreessen took down his blog a while ago so some of these posts feel a little dated. That being said, I found the career planning series very valuable. I certainly hadn’t planned my career with much fidelity and from what I can tell, few engineers really do. But coming up with a long-term plan and helping your reports implement it (even if your team / company is only a small slice of that plan) is extraordinarily rewarding.
Managing and Leading Teams. Wavelength is a publication Asana puts out about strategies for work. Their issue on managing teams has lots of great articles. I liked Why 1-1 meetings are crucial to your team’s success and the advice on how to structure (and attend) one-on-one meetings. What only managers can do to keep employees engaged gives an opinionated framework around the characteristics of Meaningfulness, Safety, and Availability of work. The chart at the end has a “what employees need” section which feels very authentic and a great set of things to keep in mind when planning or reviewing work.
Liz Wiseman: Diminisher vs. Multiplier. This video was part of Twitter’s new manager training class. There’s a larger framework (and probably books, videos, and seminars to buy) but much of the gist is available via YouTube. I really like the contrast between the diminishing mindset of “People won’t figure it out without me” vs. the multiplying mindset of “People are smart and will figure it out”.