For our inaugural book club we read Will Larson’s An Elegant Puzzle: Systems of Engineering Management. For those familiar, Will has an excellent blog focused on the challenges and opportunities of being an engineering manager at high growth companies, and I’ve found his insights particularly useful at this phase of my career.
Since I’ve been reading his blog for a while, I was ok with the fact that this book had a lot of lists/reference tools rather than a lot of narrative, but I think it is a fair critique that from about chapter 4 onward the book feels heavy on references and lighter on the analysis of why a particular approach works, or stories of where it worked specifically in his career. I also think rules of thumb that work for him are generally applicable to the high growth market he has been occupying and are not as generalizable to larger/slower growth companies, or during periods of extreme turbulence. Still, the book provides real tools/methods for approaching problems with a concrete thesis, and to me this is a strength and not a weakness. He isn’t an academic or a researcher, so he isn’t giving the background and context for why these approaches work (I think it would be even more powerful if he joined forces with someone from that domain to make his analysis more generalizable in context), but he is clear that these are his lessons–in some sense his reflection and offer of mentorship to the world. He also makes references to others who have written academic texts in key domains worthy of further study that helped him formulate his thesis and approach (systems thinking, developer velocity, strategy, etc.) and I for one will absolutely be reading his references.
If you are an engineering manager or a manager of managers in this domain looking to level up your skill set in key domains from executive presentation, leadership, hiring, managing metrics and goals, organizational debt, and planning a reorganizaton to product management basics, I’d highly recommend the book.
For our January book club we are reading Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes are High based on our poll. I have read an earlier edition of this book, but like many others in the group, I felt the learnings were critical, so it will be great to read again with a cohort. I honestly love revisiting good books: great opportunity to see how I have changed and where the narrative resonates now.