Ben McCormick

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Book Review: The Manager's Path

Titles in the software engineering world are strange. Without much work, it’s easy to find Senior Engineers with 2 years of professional experience, junior developer job descriptions requesting 5 years of experience, tech lead roles focused purely on technology, tech lead roles where the lead is managing a team, and who can tell the difference between a CTO and a VP of Engineering anyway? This results in weird title shifts when developers switch jobs, odd or unfair salary distributions, and a world where it is very difficult to understand what a career path looks like in this industry.

Camille Fournier’s book The Manager’s Path steps into this breach by laying out a clear look at an engineering management-focused career path. The book runs through a series of roles: Mentor to Tech Lead to Manager to Manager of Managers all the way up to Executive. For each role she describes what the job is, walks through what type of challenges you might face in the role after a promotion, and offers practical advice on overcoming those challenges.

I found it to be an extremely engaging read, and the best description of what it actually looks like to advance in technical leadership roles I’ve ever read. Because she focuses on skills and responsibilities more than titles, it’s possible to apply her advice across large and small companies, even those with wonky title structures. It helped me think about what skills I need to be building in my career, and gave me a glimpse of what next steps look like.

The focus on common challenges and how to face them was also helpful, though whole books could (and have) been written on those challenges and how to face them at each level. The Manager’s Path serves as a good starting point here, identifying the challenges and giving good solid general advice for facing them. For those new to a role it could help them identify where they’re weak or uncomfortable, and serve as a starting point to a deeper dive into those areas.

As I read the book, I immediately thought of 4 or 5 people at various points in their career I knew who could benefit greatly from reading this book. If you’re working in the software world and think that you long term are interested in advancing in your career beyond your current role, there will probably be interesting tidbits in here for you. Even those who are sure they don’t want to be in management could benefit from understanding the perspectives of what engineering managers actually do. The book is also structured so that the first few chapters are highly relevant for both technical and manager track developers; tech lead is an important role on both tracks. If you fall into one of those buckets, I highly recommend The Manager’s Path.

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