Now as a Director of Engineering at Docker, I’ve been doing some type of engineering leadership for the last decade.
I have learned from the best over the years, and many resources have shaped who I am and philosophies for how I lead.
These are the resources that come to mind that may help other engineering managers, staff engineers, or other leaders in their journey.
First, I’ll pitch a new Discord channel where you can discuss and promote additional resources that have helped shape you.
Join Practically Leading on Discord!
While many business books are full of fluff, are dry, and at times hard-to-read, there are many gems that have left an impact lasting years.
I’ve summarized some of the key takeaways I’ve had.
Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek
- Building high-performance teams considering neuroscience, psychological safety, and empathy
Start With Why by Simon Sinek
- Lead with context and carrots, beginning with purpose, cause, and beliefs. Why is more of the motivation and direction behind behavior, not How or What.
- “There are only two ways to influence human behavior: you can manipulate it or you can inspire it.”
- See Simon’s TED Talk here.
Drive by Daniel Pink
- People will be happier and work harder if you share context and opportunities for Autonomy, Purpose, Mastery
It’s Your Ship by Captain D. Michael Abrashoff
- Lead with purpose, vision, and create a team of leaders.
- Listen “aggressively”, build up your people into leaders, and expect the best.
The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor
- “When we are positive, our brains become more engaged, creative, motivated, energetic, resilient, and productive.”
- Work can be fun, and there are good reasons to strive for it.
Team Topologies by Matthew Skelton and Manuel Pais
- Minimizing Cognitive Load on teams
- Split teams with "fracture planes"
- Stream-aligned team: aligned to a flow of work from (usually) a segment of the business domain
- Enabling team: helps a Stream-aligned team to overcome obstacles. Also detects missing capabilities.
- Complicated Subsystem team: where significant mathematics/calculation/technical expertise is needed.
- Platform team: a grouping of other team types that provide a compelling internal product to accelerate delivery by Stream-aligned teams
The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle
- Psychological Safety is conducive to strong group work.
- Vulnerability gives people a signal to speak up and cooperate.
- Sharing values and close bonds leads to higher performance than companies that focus on the best talent or specific skillsets.
- Some people are “Super-Cooperators”, putting teams first, giving signals that bond and direct a group.
The Culture Map by Erin Meyer
- Cultures vary widely in how they give feedback, perceive hierarchy, make decisions based on relationships or mutual tasks, and concepts of time.
- What may work in your culture may be understood wildly differently in other cultural settings.
No Rules Rules by Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer
- Mediocre performance can drag down a team, lowering performance of the high performers, even setting a negative tone in the environment.
- Netflix leads with freedom, responsibility, and low red tape.
- Employees are empowered to make bottom-up decisions.
Working Backwards by Bill Carr and Colin Bryar
- Narrative-driven documents work well for facilitating in-depth discussion, even for executive presentations.
- Hiring should focus on raising the bar, and can include shadowing or other practices like Bar Raisers.
- Single-threaded leaders help with efficiency and cohesiveness over projects or domains.
- Use PR/FAQs to start with the end in mind, predicting success or failures of the final product and responding to concerns within the planning process.
- Focus on inputs, not outputs. Look at and measure what levers can be pulled, not the indirect outcome.
Thinking in Systems by Donella Meadows
- Most multi-part organization can be thought of in systems.
- Systems include stocks and flows, and feedback loops.
- Feedback loop types vary; some have goals of an equillibrium outcome, others amplify into a virtuous cycle.
Staff Engineer: Leadership Beyond the Management Track by Will Larson
- Staff Engineer titles vary in responsibility betwee companies.
- 4 archetypes are most commonly seen.
- Staff Engineers most often take on leadership aspects, such as team leadership, complex subsystem leadership, cross-architecture leadership, or being a technical voice counterpart to managers.
High Output Management by Andrew Grove
- Information gathering, decision making, and nudging others
- Utilizing meetings, KPIs effectively
- Leading through Objectives and Key Results (OKRs)
- Organizational and management leverage
Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss
- Unconventional, highly practical approaches to negotiations and difficult discussions
- Mirroring, labeling, and reframing questions helps disarm and engage in active listening
- Making 1% improvements each day
- Creating habits that build off each other and are maintainable
Getting Things Done by David Allen
- Getting work onto paper lowers stress
- Regularly review your todos, curate
Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson
- Succeed in conversations through self-reflection, creating shared meaning, candor, psychological safety, expression, and persuasion
Team of Teams by General Stanley McChrystal
- Modern organizational systems can be complex and hard to map out, organic in design, versus complicated.
- With complex systems, teams must be more adaptable to change, resilient, lower command and control.
- Complex system design can look more like joined spiderwebs (teams) with little hierarchy: a team of teams.
- Team leadership requires high transparency, decentralized decision-making to make these systems work well.
Work Rules! by Laszlo Bock
- Employees should act as founders
- “Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast”
- Smart generalists can be superior than experts. People clever and curious, able to solve change and problems unknown at time of hire.
- Hiring managers and employees should be part of the hiring process, including sourcing.
- Be objective about hiring. Scorecards, good note-taking.
- Be data-driven.
- Nudges are powerful as a leader, and are ways of avoiding micromanagement while having impact.
Deep Work by Cal Newport
- All roles require some level of deep thinking, a lost art.
- Deep work requires blocking off uninterrupted time, whether on a calendar or your own will.
- Proper environment, inspiration, boredom, and time to think helps facilitate deep work.
The Manager’s Path by Camille Fournier
- “It’s unrealistic to think you can or should shield your team from everything.”
- Include the team in decisions and challenges.
- First Round Review
- The Pragmatic Engineer - Gergely Orosz’s blog
- Lara Hogan’s blog
- Charity.wtf - Mipsy Tipsy - Charity Sear’s blog
- Elided Branches - Camille Fournier’s blog
- Irrational Exuberance - Will Larson's blog
- Crispy Engineering - Dusko Bajic’s blog
- Birgit Pohl’s blog
- Designing for Scale - Wissam Abirached’s blog
- Managers Club
- Toptal Engineering Management
- Practically Leading - Shawn Axsom’s blog
- The Pragmatic Engineer by Gergely Orosz
- Software Lead Weekly by Oren Ellenbogen
- Practically Leading Newsletter by Shawn Axsom
This is where I got my start, my first resource years ago when I became a team lead (thanks to my manager and mentor at the time, Paul Melliere).
Tech Startup Show by Charles Calzia
See Shawn Axsom’s recent podcast episode, here
People who aren’t just leaders, but talk about leading
2.5K leaders on Twitter and growing
But you’ll find less actual people in this list tweeting about their craft than the consolidated list above
Ask a Leader - Q&A with Engineering Managers, Directors, Executives, and Founders - with Shawn Axsom and Jenn Strout
A community of people that are willing to help others, free, open to DMs or coffee chats
Am I missing anything?
Feel free to reach out to me if you have suggestions!
I’m open to DMs and coffee chats on Twitter