The following are a few of the books which I’ve found impactful in my day-to-day thinking, work and career development since graduating from university.
Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the World with OKRs
- OKRs are incredibly valuable in their ability to focus an organization or team, but poorly constructed OKRs can do more damage than good.
- Clear goals and measurable results are a focus mechanism that help an organization scale out.
- Use OKRs as an opportunity to set stretch goals and aspirational targets instead of sticking with the status quo.
- OKRs are an opportunity to communicate the why alongside the what.
The DevOps Handbook: How to Create World-Class Agility, Reliability, and Security in Technology Organizations
Of all the books in this list, The DevOps Handbook is the single most influential book and has been a guiding hand in how I attempt to organize engineering processes and teams.
- Optimize delivery for rapid and small releases to make it easier to debug issues.
- Structure your teams such that they own and maintain the code you ship to production.
- You don’t “hand off to ops” after you’ve built the feature.
- Closely follow and optimize for cycle time and lead time.
- DevOps is a culture not a job title.
An Elegant Puzzle: Systems of Engineering Management
This is a quick read full of useful learnings over Will Larson’s career.
I would recommend it for new managers.
- Always be recruiting and have a hiring funnel.
- Inbound recruiting can be difficult without a strong company brand.
- You should build up referral networks over the course of your career.
- Learn to manage and present upwards.
- Finish fully staffing one team before attempting to build a second half staffed team.
Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility
I genuinely love this book and revisit it often to get an idea for how Patty McCord helped recruit, retain and motivate talent at Netflix.
- “A business leader’s job is to create great teams that do amazing work on time. That’s it. That’s the job of management”.
- You need to be great at hiring to also be great at letting people go.
- Employees are always looking for challenging opportunities and interesting problems to solve.
- Like the above, people want to learn. Don’t optimize for office perks.
- Challenge your team(s).
- Everyone should understand the business.
- Be as transparent as possible about the success and failures of the business.
- Annual performance bonuses won’t necessarily make people work harder.
- Whenever possible remove structure, policies, and process to move the authority to the team. This is very similar to the advice in Turn the Ship Around.
The Phoenix Project
A fun quick read.
- Interpersonal communication skills are as important as coding.
- Small changes can snowball across an organization, so chaining together a lot of small wins using a bottom-up approach can be very effective.
Turn the Ship Around! A True Story of Turning Followers Into Leaders
Another quick read with parallels to engineering leadership or leadership more generally.
- To grant authority to mid-organization teams you need to provide them with clarity and competence.
- Speak with intent instead of asking for permission.
- Move from a leader-follower model to a leader-leader model.
A good reference when you are asking yourself what to do as new product owner.
- Product roadmaps are not necessarily the most effective way of communicating product strategy or long-term needs.
The Hard Thing about Hard Things
One of the earliest books that I read when first promoted to CTO.
Ben’s new book What You Do Is Who You Are: How to Create Your Business Culture is also very good.
- Peacetime CEO vs Wartime CEO
- Building tech companies is not as romanticized as it’s made out to be.