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Become an Effective Software Engineering Manager How to Be the Leader Your Development Team Needs James Stanier

June 27, 2021 - 1001 words - 6 mins Found a typo? Edit me
software management

A great compilation of all topics that are important for management: 1:1s, performance reviews, hiring and laying off, workplace politics, remote work, and others.

The book is divided into 3 parts: the first part covers things a new manager should know, the second and third parts go into topics that all managers should master.

Although I kept nodding along with the bits of advice, I sometimes felt it was too “wordy” or going into too many details that I wasn’t interested in. That said, I kept moving forward, and I am glad that I finished it, gathering a lot of useful tips.


My takeaways from this book:

Part 1 - Getting Oriented

Chapter 01: A New Adventure

  • Practical advice on things to do the first week and finding misalignment signals on your first week.

Chapter 02: Manage Yourself First

  • A good reminder of how getting your things an order comes first - this is a pre-requisite to you being efficient, as a manager.

“Your calendar it is both for you and other people to use. Keep it tidy and meaningful. It represents you. Making meetings public by default can help others reason better about how to schedule time with you.”

Part 2 - Working with Individuals

Chapter 03: Interfacing with Humans

  • This chapter covers a lot of ground on how to communicate with others.
  • Think twice before broadcasting information.
  • Be consistent in your communications style.

“Don’t communicate when you want to, but when you need to.”

Chapter 04: One-to-Ones

  • It’s their meeting, not yours.

“Try to get your direct reports to do 70% of the talking. If you feel like solving their problem for them, don’t. Ask another question and let them arrive at the conclusion themselves. This is an art that takes some practice.”

Chapter 05: The Right Job for the Person

  • Motivation and the hierarchy of needs. Developing skills with some practical examples on doing so.

“However, as their manager, you can work with them to place these career achievements at the bottom of their skill tree, and then plan out the milestones along the way that they can aim for to make measurable progress. Thus pushing the frontier of their zone of proximal development further and further.”

Chapter 06: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year (Performance Reviews)

  • Preparing for performance reviews ahead of time. Getting peer feedback, and doing this via email, for example.

Chapter 07: Join Us! (Hiring)

  • The case for not needing the most senior candidate.
  • Culture fit.
  • Setting up an interview process.

Chapter 08: Game Over (Attrition)

  • People leaving is normal.
  • Voluntary resignations that are:
    • “good reasons”, aka you could have not done much about it.
    • “bad reasons”, that is you could have caught (and addressed) things early like coworker conflict, lack of challenge, compensation.

“As a manager, you are doomed to failure if you think that you are going to keep everyone in your current team indefinitely. […] You should never fight to keep staff if you cannot actually provide the conditions under which they can become happier than they already are. You’ll just defer their departure.”

Chapter 09: How to win friends and influence people (Being well-connected)

  • Building your network . Making introductions, checking in with others.
  • Coaching and mentoring.

Part 3 - The Bigger Picture

Chapter 10: Humans are Hard

  • Working harder or faster isn’t what you should be focusing on. Instead, you should be creating the conditions that make your staff happy and productive through nurturing their autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

“At more senior levels, During bad times, you will get the fingers pointed at you as you are fundamentally accountable, even though it may have not been your fault.”

Chapter 11: Projects are Hard

  • “The eye off Sauron” - working on high-stakes projects.
  • Things slowing down as the team is growing. More (legacy) code, more problems to deal with.
  • Scope, resources and time balance.

“Lead from the front: As a leader, you need to set the example for the rest of the team. Put in the work. The hardest projects can become career-defining moments. Own them and be there.”

Chapter 12: The Information Stock Exchange

  • Spies and gatekeepers.

“As a manager, you will be required to make regular decisions about how much you should share with other staff and when.”

  • Workplace politics.

“In workplace politics, your network of peers is important as it allows you to be more broadly informed about how the wider business feels about your own initiatives and priorities.”

Chapter 13: Letting Go of Control

  • Remove distractions and recharge properly outside work.
  • Use 10% of your time each week to do nothing and let your thoughts emerge.

“Let go of outcomes that you cannot control. Be accepting of trying your best, and encourage the same behavior in your staff. Unpredictable results are normal. Failure is acceptable. As long as you are trying your best, and you are enabling your team to try your best, then you have nothing to worry about.”

Chapter 14: Good Housekeeping

  • Turn problems into learning opportunities.
  • Work on improving the team communication.

Chapter 15: Dual Ladders

  • Designing an Individual Contributor and Manager track is vital to a healthy engineering organization culture.

Chapter 16: The Modern Workplace

  • Diversity and inclusion.
  • Remote working.
  • Lead by example: work-life-balance.

Chapter 17: Startups

  • Management doesn’t mean bureaucracy.
  • Good management is a light touch and continued collaboration.

“Remember that start-up experience is highly sought after because being impactful in that environment involves being enterprising, self-motivated, collaborative, and quick to learn. Even if the start-up itself doesn’t work out, your next gig will be all the better for it.”

Chapter 18: The Crystal Ball

  • Your career vision. Looking back, looking ahead.

“An important part of a long and fulfilling life is purpose. Purpose is not about economic status or feeling well-being. It’s about a life worth living.”


350 pages