Have you ever wondered how to become a Software Engineering Manager?
Are you interested in a management career path for software engineers?
In the above video (transcribed and slightly modified below) I will tell you about 3 books that let me understand what a good leadership is, what is the role and expectations of an engineering manager on different levels and how to find what motivates people and how to become a better leader by utilising this knowledge.
In my career surrounding software engineering I saw many examples of good and bad leadership. I experienced micromanagers that feel threatened by anyone and anything outside of their understanding and I experienced amazing leaders that approach people with trust and are genuinely caring for developing and growing the people they work with.
I am myself somewhere at the beginning of my leadership path. I’ve been tech-leading and mentoring for a while. Early this year I became a coach at Canva but I will tell you more about that at the end of this article with some examples of how the books I’m about to present you helped me with adjusting to my new role.
The Manager's Path: A Guide for Tech Leaders Navigating Growth and Change by Camille Fournier
Buy on Amazon: https://bit.ly/KaroCodes-TheManagersPath
Camille Fournier, the author of this book, is a former CTO of Rent The Runway and a former vice president of technology at Goldman Sachs. In The manager’s path she takes you thru all the stages of leadership in a tech company. She starts with personal leadership and techleading, thru hosting an intern, mentoring more junior colleagues to assuming actual management positions like engineering manager / team lead, managing managers, explaining differences between CTO and head of engineering.
She goes thru all the expectations and responsibilities of each role. She explains what skills and characteristics are necessary for you to develop to be able to get a job at that level.
This book helped me realise where I want to be and that my years-long dream about managing hundreds of people might just not be what I really want in my career. This doesn’t mean I’m not interested in leadership at all anymore - I’m still very much growing that part of my skill set. It just means that I can see different places where I can have more impact and feel more happy without necessarily taking on the risks and stress that comes with a very senior leadership. Or maybe I’m simply not ready for it now and I will be in the future. Thanks to this book I know how to spot that change if it ever happens.
I consumed this book as an audiobook. Interestingly I find that books that are not strictly technical and are not fiction (I read mostly SciFi) are best when listened to. Especially that many of them are narrated by the author. Just like the book #2 on our list.
Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. by Brené Brown
Buy on Amazon: http://bit.ly/KaroCodes-DareToLead
You probably heard about Brene Brown from her famous TEDTalk about the power of vulnerability. YouTube recommendations are how I discovered her and her research.
Small anecdote: I was fostering this very anxious, easily scared staffy called Shenzi. I live in an apartment close to a busy street in inner Sydney so there’s heaps of noise at all times. Dogs are very sound sensitive, as a matter of fact their hearing is 4 times more sensitive than that of humans. Honestly, I can barely stand this noise so I can’t imagine how bad it was for her. She was very alert and stressed at all times. I tried soundproofing the apartment, playing meditation music, rainforest sounds - anything to help her relax.
One day when I was listening to Brene’s podcast on Spotify I noticed that Shenzi was finally sleeping. Since that day Brene was playing on the loop for the next couple of months. Shenzi got some rest from her anxiety so we could work deeper on the underlying issues.
I’m telling you this just to show you how even voice modulation, the way you talk, has an effect on people (and animals ;)). It’s part of leading darley to use it responsibly.
Dare to Lead is a book about leading with vulnerability. It’s not tech specific. But it will show you what good leading is. If you check out the full title of the book: Dare to Lead. Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. You will get a good idea of the contents. But… easier said than done. This book will show you how to do it. How to stay human when you have to manage others.
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink
Buy on Amazon: http://bit.ly/KaroCodes-Drive
Drive explores, well, what drives us. For years it was believed that there are 2 drives to humans motivation: primary - biological; and secondary: social or identity drives. The book states that there is also the magical 3rd drive. He describes and summarises many studies conducted across decades focusing on what motivates us. How motivation affects performance. He compares 20th century leadership to the currently emerging one. He explains how motivators change as technology plays a bigger and bigger role in our lives. Spoiler alert: he states that we are motivated by challenging tasks and solving problems itself and money and performance-based bonuses can often spoil the real source that was driving us to do the job. There’s much more to it than that but I will let you explore it yourself. The book is not too long but it’s definitely worth reading. Even if you’re not planning to go the managing path - it can be very useful to understand what YOU need to do to be happy and fulfilled at your job.
The links to all of those books lead to a paperback, kindle and (as I consumed them) audiobooks. Those are affiliate links which means without any additional cost to you I will get a small % of your purchase. I will reinvest any of it back into the channel so if you want to show your support that’s a great way to do it. No pressure tho ;)
OK, let’s start with some context: at Canva we don’t officially have engineering managers. We have coaches. The role of a coach is to facilitate the growth and development of their coachees. Coach is a very people-oriented role. You can be an IC and a coach or you can go full-on as a coach where you don’t write code yourself anymore but focus on growing the people around you and aligning your team’s vision. The idea is that everyone has a coach and the role of the coach is to make sure people are happy, understand the impact of the work they are doing and have the best chance possible to grow in the direction that they and the company needs.
Currently, I have one coachee. I’m still primarily an individual contributor and a tech lead, which allows me to practice and develop a lot of leadership skills on a smaller scale. That includes communication and alignment between me and other software engineers working on a given project, designers, product managers and the group lead. A lot of the knowledge I use here comes from The Manager’s Path book.
With my coachee I can practice a lot of leading darly. Bringing clarity, showing impact and the bigger picture, helping setting and achieving goals, accountability.
I use the knowledge from Drive to understand what motivates him and what projects are the best match for him. How can I rephrase the problems we need to solve in a way that makes it interesting to him. What the right level of challenge to keep the motivation high but not overwhelm him.
I’m still very much at the beginning of this journey. And I don’t really know where it’s going to end. But it’s a great journey and those 3 books definitely provided me with some good guidance.
Let me know if you enjoyed this video and if you have any books you’d like to recommend. As always I’m super keen to learn more so keep those comments popping!
My desk setup
My recording setup for YouTube videos
My book recommendations