I thought I’d start writing book reviews, because there are a lot of books that’ve helped me immensely but also don’t seem to be well-known. In this case, I picked up Camille Fournier’s The Manager’s Path shortly after falling into my first team-lead role, and quickly realized I should’ve read it far earlier.
Who should read this book?
Pretty much everyone in the tech industry.
Even me? I’m a junior developer, and I don’t ever want to be a manager
Who shouldn’t read this book?
My lovely parents, who are retired and might read this blog every once in a while to see what I’m up to.
What am I going to get out of it?
The Manager’s Path follows a rough “software dev to CTO” career progression, with a few spurs off to the side for finger-quotes “tech roles” that aren’t explicitly tasked with people management (tech lead, staff engineer, lead architect, that sort of thing). There’s a chapter at the end on bootstrapping, or changing, engineering culture.
The key value this brings to those of us near the bottom of the org chart is setting basic expectations. Fournier starts with a chapter for individual contributors (ICs), which is all about pointing out things your manager should be doing, and why. It takes some of the mystery out of the relationship – which, as she points out, can be jarring.
For example, if you know about 1-on-1s, that recurring meeting your team lead schedules on your second or third week with the company turns into a good sign rather than a worrying unknown. If you’ve been with the team for a while and you don’t have a 1-on-1 scheduled, this is your opportunity to manage up – ask your lead for a quick meeting over coffee to get some feedback.
The whole book’s valuable for this kind of context. Maybe you never want to be a CTO, but knowing more about their responsibilities can give you some context on what your CTO just did.
But isn’t the book about management?
Oh. Yeah. If and when you do end up in a leadership position – which can be as seemingly innocuous as “hey, can you mentor our new hire while they’re onboarding?” or as terrifying as “hey, your team lead’s moving to a different company and you’re the best replacement we have” – this is a great book for actually learning how to lead. I’m sure there are companies out there with comprehensive internal leadership training, but if you aren’t working for one of those, this book is a great alternative.
While the book’s densely packed with knowledge, I found it a pretty quick and engaging read. There’s enough shift back and forth between general principles, personal anecdotes, hypotheticals, and sidebars that it never really bogs down. Pretty much by construction, most of the book is going to be interesting context rather than directly relevant, which encourages skimming and revisiting rather than a close, cover to cover study. You can probably get, I dunno, 80% of the benefit out of The Manager’s Path over a weekend, then come back later for more focused study of individual bits as and if they get relevant.
But I said I didn’t want to go into management!
Weird, I’ve said that too.
Seriously though, this book is helpful even if you want to stay 100% on the tech path. There’s not a lot of direct treatment of senior tech-track roles, but Fournier often contrasts senior ICs with managers at roughly the same level of responsibility. If nothing else, you’ll be able to see the sorts of decisions you’d be leaving for someone in a more manager-ish role (maybe you’re actually more interested in driving those!), and how what you like to think of as a technical job title really involves a lot of leadership and consensus-building. (Imagine how effective an enterprise architect who rules by decrees handed down from a castle in the clouds is going to be. Or maybe you don’t have to.)
This book will give you context for what your manager, and the rest of your company’s management structure, are trying to get done, with a bit of why and how they’re doing it. That alone is worth the price of admission, but beyond that, it’s a fantastic resource if you ever find yourself having to mentor, manage, or lead people in tech. It might even make you choose that path, or at least consider it.
Buy it and read it.
Fournier, Camille: The Manager’s Path: A Guide for Tech Leaders Navigating Growth & Change
2017, O’Reilly Media, 244 pages
Thanks to @fried_brice for a quick, a la minute editing pass and some great suggestions.