Books for software engineers and managers

Engineering Management for the Rest of Us

Engineering Management for the Rest of  Us

by Sarah Drasner

Engineering Manager

How strongly do I recommend Engineering Management for the Rest of  Us?
6 / 10

Review of Engineering Management for the Rest of Us

Engineering Management for the Rest of Us covers many of the basic things you need to do as a new engineering manager. Seasoned managers won’t get much out of this book. Most of the advice in this book is not specific to engineering and as a result, I would probably recommend The Making of a Manager over this book for most new managers.

Trust is what you need to build most with your  team

Building trust takes time and deliberate effort. Conversely, losing trust happens quickly and often by mistakes of omission.

The manager should be the person to demonstrate vulnerability  first

As a leader you are always on stage, signally what behaviors are celebrated and tolerated. Your team members will not demonstrate vulnerability until you demonstrate it first.

In my experience, teams that demonstrate vulnerability are also the most creative teams. People feel the emotional safety necessary to have “how might we” and “what if” conversations that lead to better (and often simpler) solutions.

Your job as manager includes fostering healthy culture and  morale

Team culture will grow organically but is best fostered through intentionality. As a manager, creating a healthy culture is part of your job. You are responsible for team morale.

Debugging team morale issues is complex but here are some steps I normally follow.

  1. Teams become a reflection of their leader. So first you need to objectively look at how you are showing up each day, which requires getting feedback from others. Some people struggle to accept feedback, responding defensively. But fighting feedback will get you nowhere. Feedback is a gift that you can choose to accept and apply or not.
  2. Think through Daniel Pink’s model of Mastery, Autonomy, and Purpose. If team morale is low there stands a good chance one or more of these elements is missing or inhibited.
  3. Do you have any obvious low performers? Low performers bring down everyone, but especially high performers. Directly address low performance as quickly as possible.
  4. Is the team regularly shipping to production? As a general rule of thumb, shipping makes engineers happy. If your team isn’t shipping, you need to diagnose why not and address the limiting factor.

Employees feel most demoralized when they’re unsure on career path or whether their title and compensation are  fair

People feel most demoralized at work when they feel underpaid, under-recognized, and/or without hope for a brighter future. As a manager you need to address head-on any misalignment around compensation and title expectations.

Here’s the mistake to avoid: trying to control the reaction of the other person when discussing title, compensation, and opportunity conversations with employees. Just tell the truth, objectively as you see it. Don’t stress about softening the blow because you will probably damage the trust you’ve built with that person by providing them what is perceived as a non-answer.

1:1s are the most important thing you  do

You need to have a 1:1 with each direct report. In the case of higher level managers, I also find it valuable to have skip-level 1:1s.

Your 1:1 meetings are particularly useful for:

  1. Thanking your team members for their contributions
  2. Providing direction and guidance
  3. Clarifying vision
  4. Prioritizing their work
  5. Finding insights about team dynamics and organizational issues that otherwise you might not have visibility into – this is particularly true in a hybrid or remote work context where managers cannot easily see subtle but important day-to-day interactions

Your job is to be interruption-driven so your team can stay  focused

Engineering management is interruption-driven. Some individual contributors turned managers struggle with the reality that they can be interrupted at any moment and in response they start blocking off big chunks of their schedule for deep work. This is an attempt to optimize their own schedule at the expense of their team.

As a result of blocking off their schedule, they become unavailable to their team. But their team members won’t directly surface this as an issue because that would go against their bosses wishes, so team performance and morale slowly dies.

Engineering Management for the Rest of Us