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Top 5 Books Every CTO and Engineering Manager Should Read

Here’s my personal recommendation when it comes to books that will help a technical person to get into management and executive functions.

I’ve stayed away from technical books on this list. Not because they’re not crucial for a CTO or Engineering Manager, but because it’s usually easier for people like you and me to find them and reason if it makes sense or not.

In doing so, I’ve focused on books that deal with management, leadership, and people skills.

1. The Harvard Business Review Manager’s Handbook: The 17 Skills Leaders Need to Stand Out


HBR is a little bit cliché in the business world, but this one little book has a lot of tips packed in a small form. You’ll learn more here than I learned in my HR classes.

Ranging from topics from how to develop yourself to managing individuals, teams, and businesses, it’s a valuable crash-course on leadership.

And it’s speedy to read!

2. The Phoenix Project: A Novel About IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win


You’ll probably love or hate the fact that this book is a novel. Yep, it’s a story. And it tells us how this fictional (or not) team tried to fix the mess of a very late and over-budget project.

That hits too close for me. I could tell you that parts of the story were about my history 🙂

I’m sure you’ll relate too.

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3. Making Work Visible: Exposing Time Theft to Optimize Work & flow


Okay, this book is a lot more pragmatic than the previous ones. Making Work Visible will make you think much more deeply than “we just need to stick post-its into columns in a wall.”

The first part will teach you about the five thieves of time, and after you read about those, you’ll start seeing them everywhere.

And although it’s Kanban-focused, there’s a valuable lesson here for any team, independently on which methodology you use.

4. The Manager’s Path: A Guide for Tech Leaders Navigating Growth and Change


Building a culture, managing small and large teams, dealing with people problems, and developing yourself are some of the focus on this excellent book by Camille Fournier.

I especially enjoyed how she explains the different roles, which can be very frustrating to understand if you’re starting to manage people in tech. Smaller teams have people performing several roles at the same time, which is okay for a while, but you need to be aware of that in order to scale up.

5. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable


The other books have more on how to deal with and manage teams in a top-down manner. This one is different. I’d recommend The Five Dysfunctions of a Team for learning how to build a working relationship with other C-Levels and managers.

There’s valuable and actionable information here to build a top-performing team. Spoilers: trust, trust, trust!

Bonus! The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter, Updated and Expanded


If you’re changing positions, maybe because of a promotion or perhaps because of a new job in another company, this is your guide.

Practical help on how to present yourself to peers, managers, and direct reports, including setting the agenda and what’s the best topics to focus on every step of the onboarding process. And yes, the responsibility for your onboarding should be you.

What about you?

I forced myself to limit this list to 5-ish books, and so I have not included a lot of books that I also enjoy.

What about you? What books have changed the way you manage teams or manage yourself?

2 thoughts on “Top 5 Books Every CTO and Engineering Manager Should Read

  1. Fantastic blog post 🙂 I’ve read The Manager’s Path and The Phoenix Project and I’ve really liked it.

    Another book I highly recommend is The Unicorn Project: it shows the Development side of the same transformation the Parts Unlimited have gone through on The Phoenix Project 🙂

  2. Hey, George, excellent list of readings. I’ve already read them all but I got quite lovely recommendations for my to-read list.

    One title that I genuinely recommend for every Engineering Manager or CTO is the Principles of Product Development Flow from Don Reinertsen. In my opinion, the economic viewpoint and the concept of small batch size shared in that book are critical, and they complement the flow-efficiency view discussed in Making Work Visible.

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