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Ask HN: Reading for first time managers
22 points by el_benhameen on June 6, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 13 comments
I've been working as my company's sole QA engineer for the last year or so. I've now been tasked with building a team, and I've just hired my first two engineers.

I have a good support system and managers who are excellent models, but I'm also looking for reading that might help me as I build a multi-person department with processes, etc. Does anyone have recommendations for papers or books that have good insights into 1) managing people and 2) managing software projects?


As Dale Carnegie said:

"Even in such technical lines as engineering, about 15% of one's [financial] success is due one's technical knowledge and about 85% is due to skill in human engineering, to personality and the ability to lead people."

In this sense a few books about mastering that 85%:





I just started off in a very young startup and we will be a building a team now. So this was my concern too. I started reading Peopleware by Tom DeMarco and Tim Lister, and I'm 1/3rd in it. Highly recommended.

I also found this series of articles about a real person's real experience while trying to improve things in his company to be pretty interesting. http://www.jamesshore.com/Change-Diary/

This book should be added to your list. The examples in the book are from the 80's/90's so don't dismiss them - the software industry has the same problems it has always had, just swap out the programming language acronyms for whatever is popular at the time.

You will find many concepts about managing engineers in the book that might go against the open office, micro management styles of today.

Also may want to look at the history of articles from Joel Spolsky - Joel On Software.

There are some good recommendations in this syllabus: [pdf warning] http://ca-cf10.wharton.upenn.edu/syllabi/?term=2014C&course=...

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us : http://www.amazon.com/Drive-Surprising-Truth-About-Motivates...

First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently : http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/0684852861/ref=mp_s_a_1_6?qid=...

Managing software projects : The TimeBlock Method by Me :) http://timeblock.com

I found the writings of Samuel Colbert invaluable when I took on a management role http://www.performancepreview.com/ It was the first piece of management advice that rang true with my own personal experience.

In a similar vein I'm currently reading Frederic Laloux's Reinventing Organisations which is great although may be difficult to enact depending on your company.

Specifically around managing software engineers I would do some reading on bricolage and how to cultivate that mindset, I've found adopting it in my teams sees motivation soar. I don't have any specific reading material to point you at on that though.

On Managing People: http://www.amazon.com/Managing-featured-%C2%93Leadership-Res...

It's a collection of ten HBR articles focussed on, you guessed it, managing people. I found it to be very helpful.

The Mythical Man Month, still exceptionally applicable today.

The HP Way, also still exceptionally applicable today.

How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie (not specific to management, but required reading for understanding and communicating with people)

Managing Humans by Michael Lopp

Peopleware by Tom DeMarco & Tim Lister

Not reading, but listening: http://manager-tools.com

A huge amount of great, actionable, material.

Hi there, I'm quite new to engineering management as well, with approximately one year of experience. I've had some great mentors, as well as a reading list passed down to me. I'll highlight those I found as having the most impact for me.

At the top of the list is "Managing Humans: Biting and Humorous Tales of a Software Engineering Manager" by Michael Lopp[1], which was recommended to me by a manager who helped me get my start in engineering management. This book touches on a lot of the nuances in dealing with people and, as an introvert, I found this really helpful. The same author blogs under "Rands in Repose[2]" which has much of the content from the aforementioned book available for free.

While in the people category you'll also get a lot of recommendations for "Drive!" by Daniel Pink[2], which is a book about intrinsic motivators (autonomy, mastery, purpose) and how they are more important and effective than extrinsic motivators (e.g. money), particularly for knowledge workers. My personal advice, however, is to watch his TED talk[3] which is a great summary of basically the entire book. In this same category I could also recommend "The Great Jackass Fallacy" by Harry Levinson[5].

Now on the wall between people management and engineering/project management is "Slack" by Tom DeMarco[6], which is about how organizations and managers tend to run their staff at 100% capacity. As the book points out, however, this is a good way to not only burn people out, but it also sends response times through the roof (from queuing theory), and stifles change ("too busy to improve"). You can read this one on a plane. For some shameless self promotion, I've also written a tiny blog post relating Slack and the need for upkeep (software operations and maintenance)[7].

Next, fully in engineering/project management, I have to recommend "Waltzing with Bears" by Tom DeMarco and Anthony Lister[8], which is specifically about managing risk on software projects. The authors highlight the common practice of project/engineering managers communicating their "nano date", which they point out is typically the lowest point on the uncertainty curve. In other words, the project has the lowest possible chance of shipping by this date when you look at the possible timeline as a probability distribution. This book changed the way I talk about projects and the way I manage my team's various risks and I have been more successful as a result.

One final recommendation I'll make, since you're in the midst of a transition, is "The First 90 Days" by Michael Watkins[9]. It's a wonderful book that outlines how and why one should develop a transition plan in order to hit the ground running - and in the right direction. For my last engineering management opportunity, developing a preliminary 90 day plan as part of a "starter project," was a major factor in being given the job.

I believe that a subset of these will give you a great start. After that, you should read on the areas you feel the need for the most amount of help with or the areas that interest you. If you are avidly interested in project management, for example, you should read books on various methodologies, particularly the one that you or your organization practice.

[1]: http://www.amazon.com/Managing-Humans-Humorous-Software-Engi...

[2]: http://randsinrepose.com/

[3]: http://www.amazon.com/Drive-Surprising-Truth-About-Motivates...

[4]: http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_pink_on_motivation?language=en

[5]: http://www.amazon.com/Great-Jackass-Fallacy-Harry-Levinson/d...

[6]: http://www.amazon.com/Slack-Getting-Burnout-Busywork-Efficie...

[7]: http://www.charleshooper.net/blog/on-slack-and-upkeep/

[8]: http://www.amazon.com/Waltzing-Bears-Managing-Software-Proje...

[9]: http://www.amazon.com/The-First-90-Days-Strategies/dp/159139...

any more books you did find interesting ?

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