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Become an Effective Software Engineering Manager

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Software startups make global headlines every day. As technology companies succeed and grow, so do their engineering departments. In your career, you’ll may suddenly get the opportunity to lead teams: to become a manager. But this is often uncharted territory. How can you decide whether this career move is right for you? And if you do, what do you need to learn to succeed? Where do you start? How do you know that you’re doing it right? What does “it” even mean? And isn’t management a dirty word? This book will share the secrets you need to know to manage engineers successfully.

374 pages, Paperback

First published May 27, 2020

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James Stanier

2 books16 followers

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5 stars
188 (51%)
4 stars
131 (36%)
3 stars
41 (11%)
2 stars
2 (<1%)
1 star
1 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 43 reviews
Profile Image for Tomas Sedovic.
96 reviews11 followers
June 6, 2020
I've learned of this book about a month before I've switched careers from a software engineer to an engineering manager. I'm extremely grateful that I did.

This is a book aimed at that exact audience: a developer who's thinking of becoming a manager or has just made the switch. It is a book absolutely packed with clear practical advice on a tonne of topics that a manager of software engineers will deal with.

The change happened quite abruptly in my case and I didn't have a lot of time to wrap up my engineering work and prepare for this new role. This book has served as a really useful guidance.

For a concrete example, I've read the chapter on running effective one-to-ones with your reports a week before I've had my first one. And it turned me from "so um.. how do I do this? What do we even talk about?" to having a solid foundation to build on.

It didn't cure the feelings of awkwardness and uncertainty, but it gave me a wide overview of what to expect to be dealing with in this new job and provided really solid tools and suggestions.

The book covers topics such as communication, one-to-ones, getting oneself organised, salary, hiring, performance and development, diversity, people leaving, building your team and influence, delegating, promotions, dealing with changes, failures, your own wellbeing and its importance, mentoring, remote working, culture, startups, pressure from the above and work-life balance.

I have found all the advice really sensible, ready for the taking and adjusting to my own particular circumstances and importantly, humane. The book enthusiastically advises against being the task-giver with a whip in one hand and metrics in the other, working your people and yourself into death.

Instead, it acknowledges that we're all human. With good days and bad. And it advocates approaches that help build relationships and solve problems.

It does not replace having mentors or talking anything you're facing through with your peers. But it does stress the importance of both and helps you build that network.

It's also missing a chapter on dealing with a pandemic, countries in turmoil and bereavement -- all extremely timely issues in these ridiculous fucking times.

But I have honestly found it so much more useful and important than I expected. I can't tell if it's made me a better manager. It's probably too early to tell anyway and I'm the most biased person to make that observation. But I felt more prepared and confident that I can deal with these new challenges thanks to it.

I wish the book existed two years ago when I first considered the role change.

It is a great book for curious engineers to read: either those thinking about people management or the ones who would like to know what exactly is it their manager actually does.
Profile Image for Ehsan Gazar.
122 reviews7 followers
December 31, 2021
My manager handed me this book, and I enjoyed reading it, as simple and basic as the teaching of this book is, arranging them all together in an uncomplicated way, constructs this book so worthwhile.

For one-to-ones, communication, salary, performance reviews, diversity, mentoring, remote working, and how to handle pressure, this book contains remarkable instruction.
Profile Image for lojislav.
151 reviews1 follower
October 10, 2020
I didn’t really learn much from this book, but that’s because I was already doing many of these things. In terms of learning, I do think this book is better for someone earlier in their career. However, we read this book at work, and I think it’s really great for management cohesion and general direction. I LOVED the section on accountability vs responsibility. Additionally, I will say this book influenced me to actually get my inbox under control, rather than just declaring bankruptcy all the time
Profile Image for Olena Sovyn.
124 reviews37 followers
November 27, 2020
An excellent book that effectively presents many concepts that will be highly useful for engineering managers at any stages of their career.
3 reviews
July 19, 2021
Great book, with some fresh ideas and thinking. Easy to read with lots of nice references to the world outside of technology.
Profile Image for Christie.
505 reviews
September 4, 2021
This book was great! As I read it, I kept thinking, "Yeah, that's what an engineering manager should do!" over and over. Maybe my career would have gone differently had I had more hands-on managers.
20 reviews1 follower
April 6, 2021
Ah what a great book, coming just at the right time in my career!

This is a "management advice book" from the point of view of a software engineer who became a manager; these folks often have no formal training in management and have to figure it all out on the job.

The author covers a wide range of topics and really goes into the details rather than just giving us platitudes.

Now with a lot of the topics, you can (and should) dig a lot deeper than the author manages to do. Just as an example, the concept of intrinsic motivation gets brought up, and that's of course something entire books can be written about (e.g. Drive by Daniel H. Pink). Same with how to organize your tasks or how to have difficult conversations.

Nevertheless, the strength of the book is its breadth and as a kicking-off point for further deep dives, once it gave you an awareness that there's something for you to learn.

I also really enjoyed the human and humane view the author has. A lot is said about the mutual respect you want to foster with your team, how life-work balance is important, and how you should strive for a diverse and inclusive work place.

I'll keep recommending this book to all my colleague managers and to all my reports who consider picking the management career path.
Profile Image for Daniela D.
126 reviews5 followers
February 11, 2021
I wanted to read this book to help me understand how to work better with engineers. While the book has marginally helped in that aspect and I can say I have learned a few things (like the Cathedral and the Bazaar analogy, and the different paths that engineers might want to take), most of the book was applicable to anyone who wants to become a manager and is actually on their first couple of weeks on the job, trying to navigate the new role. Stainer outlines a very comprehensive and quite specific guide for what to do, what questions to ask yourself, others, who else should you be talking to etc essentially every detail you need for a management role that.
My favorite and most enlightening part of the book was the classification of information that a manager gets, and how to think about it in three levels: confidential, closed box (you should say something is going on but can retain the details until they can be properly shared), open.
I would absolutely recommend this book for any new manager.
Profile Image for Dimos Raptis.
Author 2 books1 follower
February 27, 2021
When I picked this book up, I was expecting a detailed list of things one can do to become a software engineering manager. After reading this book, I realised it was so much more than that; the author tries to lead the reader into introspection about various things instead of just giving a plain checklist. Depending on what you're looking for and your experience, this can be a positive or a negative thing. I would say that book focuses more on breadth than depth. The author covers a lot of different areas and gives a lot of references for those that want to dig deeper. There were a lot of things I felt I knew, but this book helped me identify them as concrete concepts, put a name on them and understand them better. Some examples are the concept of proximal development and the motivation drivers (autonomy, mastery & purpose). For more, you'll have to read the book! The author seems really passionate about helping people grow and develop quality software in a sustainable way and this is transmitted to the reader throughout the book.
Profile Image for Benji.
67 reviews
August 22, 2021
I would recommend this book to anyone interested in software engineering management, it definitely holds its own against the existing body of literature and although it repeats a lot of what has already been said it also has its own things to add to the conversation. Personally I'll take a few of these ideas into my work (e.g. setting aside some time for weekly reflection).

My main criticism is probably around the length of the book. I tend to favor concise writing and am not a fan of the frequent repetion and summaries the author uses (perhaps this works for some people though). I also found myself confused about who the target audience of the book was, the book states its about making the transition into line management and starts out that way, but often middle and senior management topics are covered (e.g. there's a whole chapter on defining career frameworks). On the whole though, there's plenty of interesting material to engage with.

(Disclosure: the author was once my VP of Engineering)
Profile Image for Stefano Iasi.
3 reviews
February 10, 2023
This is the book I should have read when I transitioned into engineering management. In fact, it is written speaking to a new manager who just jumped into the new role, coming from a developer career. For one that is in this situation, having a clear map and a consistent presentation of all the aspects of the role is helpful.

It affords many essential aspects of the engineering manager role, from personal productivity to mentoring and coaching, hiring and firing, project management, career development, and workplace politics. Those concepts, practices, and indications one learn from experience are well explained and organized, and reading about them can speed up and help the transition. Also, an experienced manager can benefit from reflecting on the same topics and receiving new tools and suggestions.

Jeff Stainer provides a significant contribution aiming to present the management role to developers in a way that is what our industry needs in order to be a better industry. This is an essential endowment in building better workplaces and companies.
Profile Image for Dan.
68 reviews2 followers
September 4, 2023
Just finished “Becoming an Effective Software Engineering Manager” by James Stanier

Absolutely beautiful book. Love how every chapter starts with a real life situation and then dives into theory.

Everything is very modern and up to date and I really felt the painpoints in different chapters.

My biggest takeaways are:
- pulling on your manager instead of pushing
- creating a snapshot of the company when joining
- containing the wobble that might affect your team.

Also loved all the small geek refrences like Lord of the Rings or Indiana Jones.

Plus this book has by far the best final chapter in a technical book. No joke
Profile Image for Shreyas.
23 reviews
February 3, 2022
A good read. I jumped into it with zero expectations and I was pleasantly surprised by how good it was at the end.

The #1 thing I got out of this book was the idea of contracting. I tried this with my team and it has been pretty successful so far. We now refer to this on a recurring basis in our 1:1s. You can also use this same technique to manage upwards.

The #2 thing I got out of this is to always keep the 'thought bubble' over your report's head in a 1:1. This resonated strongly with me and I remind myself constantly when I am in a 1:1 and I am talking too much.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
August 26, 2021
Very useful for a new dev manager. I highly recommend. Very good tips on how to structure one’s daily life and I don’t believe I would have lasted a day without having gone through these pieces of advice. The only thing that bothers me is that some of the topics left me with the feeling that the author is bringing an interesting problem to the table but with somehow insufficient solutions or with very shallow solution.
Profile Image for Łukasz Słonina.
122 reviews20 followers
February 19, 2021
Great book for IT engineers new to manager role, to those who would like to become ones and to those that are in management for some time and would like to improve in their role. You would find many practical advices around managing IT engineers (hiring, one on ones, handling leavers, building development path). If you're experienced manager then probably you would not find anything new for you.
Profile Image for Ismail Mayat.
94 reviews10 followers
January 1, 2022
Whether you are just starting out or already an experienced software manager this book has so many useful hints and tips. I have already taken on board advice from chapter on more effective 1 to 1s.

The last chapter crystal ball I am going to recommend to my teenage sons to read and use the exercise to plan their futures.
Profile Image for Bertjan.
24 reviews
May 1, 2022
Depending on where you stand chunks of this book may feel a bit like stating the obvious. However, when being a first time manager this is an extremely helpful resource to kick off and shape your work. Very pragmatic and practical advice giving concrete ideas on how your work week could look like. Other than that, it's written in a fun and accessible manner.
Profile Image for Pedro.
74 reviews25 followers
October 31, 2020
No chapter is revolutionary or surprising. In fact, when finishing the first third I was thinking on giving it a 3*.

But it's an exhaustive 360 view of an engineering line manager work, and level does not decay at any point. So 4* it is.
Profile Image for Horia.
79 reviews9 followers
May 30, 2021
As a person that's looking to switch towards the management track I found this book full with invaluable perspectives of what makes an effective manager, but also with down to earth advice that can lead to this effectiveness
Profile Image for Nikolai Maksimov.
10 reviews2 followers
August 7, 2021
This book puts everything together, helping to think like a manager, and also having a lot of practical recipes. I might even get a hardcopy since I keep returning to some chapters when facing the situations in real life.
Profile Image for Matt Fehskens.
3 reviews2 followers
August 17, 2021
This book is great. Absolutely hits all the topics I needed as a new manager. I think if I had to pick a downside, it’s that the last two chapters just weren’t from me. But they in no way take away from the excellent writing a topic coverage of the rest of the book!
Profile Image for Eugene Tararaka.
12 reviews1 follower
October 14, 2021
I had a chance to read all the mainstream engineering management books published in the last four years or so. This book is the best one. Very practical and down-to-earth. The writing is comprehensive and easy to understand. It's full of gems and valuable references.
1 review
March 4, 2022
It's definitely the best book of Engineering Manager that you can read. James will walk through all steps that a person needs to know to become an Engineering Manager, even if you never executed leadership before.
Profile Image for Arash Amani.
51 reviews9 followers
March 14, 2023
It helps me to learn new things about why ideas and thoughts can't be practical in big companies therefore I have been more patient in my career. During reading this book I share the knowledge that I have learned with my manager and colleagues. surely it improve our performance
Profile Image for Alain.
20 reviews3 followers
March 31, 2021
Very interesting book, plenty of good how-to's to follow.
If only the same would exist for consulting.
49 reviews1 follower
August 30, 2021
This book is essential reading for new software engineering managers or anyone considering going down the management path. I found it incredibly useful as it's so full of actionable advice.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 43 reviews

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