Engineering Leadership and Management Books

I get the question “Can you recommend any books or other resources for learning more about engineering leadership or management?” often enough that I’ve decided to finally write something here that I can point people to.

Here are my top four* book recommendations, in order of recommended reading:

“The Manager’s Path” by Camille Fournier is my favorite overview of what different levels of engineering leadership and management look like. Mentor, tech lead, manager, director, etc. are all different roles with different responsibilities and this book gives you a good flavor of what each entails.

“Resilient Management” by Lara Hogan is an excellent book about the human side of engineering management. It describes how to support and grow your team and yourself.

“High Output Management” by Andy Grove is a classic book on effective engineering management. Grove covers a wide swath of management, leadership, and business topics. You might assume that a 1985 book from the CEO of a 100,000+ person company doesn’t have much to teach you, but you know what happens when you assume†.

My last recommendation is a twofer: Michael Lopp has written two books that cover, well, random parts of engineering leadership and management. I really like his storytelling style:

* Okay, five.

† The funny thing is that the “you know what happens when you assume” statement is, itself, an assumption!

‡ At least I think that’s funny.

Summary of “Managing Humans,” 2nd edition

The second edition of “Managing Humans” came out this summer. In it, Michael Lopp (aka Rands) collects the engineering management wisdom from his blog in convenient dead-tree form. Again.

The second edition adds 18 chapters to the first edition, by my quick count, totaling 292 pages. The first edition was 209 pages. (I’m kind of disappointed the new edition didn’t say “Now with 40% more verbiage!” on the cover.) All sarcasm aside, I think that’s a good amount of new content, almost enough to justify buying the new edition. But I checked out the new edition at the library.

I loved the first edition, and I’m excited to dive into the second edition.

Here’s the money quote for me, from the first chapter:

“Every single person with whom you work has a vastly different set of needs. Fulfilling these needs is one way to make them content and productive. It is your full-time job to listen to these people and mentally document how they are built. This is your most important job. I know the senior VP of engineering is telling you that hitting the date for the project is job number one, but you are not going to write the code, test the product, or document the features. The team is going to do these things, and your job is to manage the team.”

That pretty much sums up Rands’s writing.

On to chapter two.

Note: that quote is originally from this Rands in Repose post: Don’t Be A Prick. It was edited before getting into the book.

Also, the book has a nifty web page with an old-school click-through intro:

Quotes from “The Bug” by Ellen Ullman

Two quotes caught my eye while reading “The Bug” by Ellen Ullman:

“To a machine, all here’s are equal.”

“To discover that between the blinks of the machine’s shuttered eye – going on without pause or cease; simulated, imagined, but still not caught – was life.” (the last sentence of the book)

“Shaping Things” by Bruce Sterling

I just finished “Shaping Things,” by Bruce Sterling.  It’s a very broad look at the way technology, people, and society have changed – and changed each other – over time.  And since it’s by Bruce Sterling, it’s mostly focused on the possibilities of tomorrow.

My favorite quote:

“Tomorrow composts today.”

Very cool – both the quote, and the book.

Sterling looks at five classes of technosocial relationships:

  • Artifacts / Hunters and Farmers
  • Machines / Customers
  • Products / Consumers
  • Gizmos / End-Users
  • Spimes / Wranglers

Definitely worth a read.

I got it from the library, and I’m going to hang on to it for a little while longer and read it again.  It’s short, but conceptually dense.

Definitely worth a re-read.

Book Review: “Hardware/Firmware Interface Design”

I just finished Hardware/Firmware Interface Design: Best Practices for Improving Embedded Systems Development, by Gary Stringham.  Gary sent me a review copy of the book, btw, but I get no money for reading or reviewing it.  Though if you buy the book via my Amazon link, I get a bit of cash.

Anyway – the book is very good.  Gary says, “This book is written by a firmware engineer but is directed primarily to hardware engineers.”  I’ve been a hardware engineer and a firmware engineer, and I think both groups should read this book.

Gary has been in the trenches of firmware/hardware co-design for 20+ years and this book shows it.  The book gives 300+ “Best Practices” which are actually usable and practical – a departure from many software or hardware design books.  Gary talks about low-level concepts like interrupts, register definitions, and debugging, as well as higher level concepts like planning, documentation, and block partitioning across multiple product generations.

Summary: You should read this book if you’re a hardware or firmware engineer.

This is one of the books that I’ll probably revisit a couple of times a year to refresh myself on A Right Way to do hardware/firmware co-design.

‘Nuff said.

Book Review: Accelerando

I just finished reading Accelerando by Charles Stross for the second time.

It’s a scifi novel which starts in the near-future with the first hints of computers augmenting man’s intelligence.  The Singularity draws near as man becomes more integrated with machine  – posthumans are born.  Well, not born, more like evolved.  Humans and intelligence change more rapidly than many can cope with.

The most fascinating idea from the book is that of cognitive forking (my phrase, not Stross’s): people can “fork” threads of their own consciousness to carry out tasks in parallel to their primary consciousness.  When a forked thread of consciousness is done with its task it rejoins your primary consciousness and you instantly know whatever it learned.   Want to research several things at once?  Fork a thread for each task, wait a little while, and voilà!  You’re smarter in 1/Nth the time than if you’d just had your primary consciousness.

The book also discusses what happens to people who are unwilling or unable to keep up with the ever-faster changes in technology and humanity:

“The faux-young boomers feel betrayed, forced back into the labor pool, but unable to cope with the implant-accelerated culture of the new millennium, their hard-earned experience rendered obsolete by deflationary time.”

“Capitalism doesn’t have a lot to say about workers whose skills are obsolete, other than that they should invest wisely while they’re earning and maybe retrain: but just knowing how to invest in Economics 2.0 is beyond an unaugmented human. You can’t retrain as a seagull, can you, and it’s quite as hard to retool for Economics 2.0.”

It is a GREAT book – one of the most original books I have ever read – highly recommended.

You can read the whole book online at Stross’s site.

I also recommend another book by Stross, Halting State.