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Book Review: "Leading Snowflakes", by Oren Ollenbergen

I don’t think I’ve reviewed an e-book in a while; last one might be Edmond Lau’s “The Effective Engineer”. I generally prefer paper books for the ability to easily add unstructured annotations, and find the medium easier on the eyes after 8 hours or so staring at a computer screen. I wanted to read “Leading Snowflakes” because I thought it would give good tips on what good engineering management looks like. Oren offers a good number of specific suggestions, which overlap with the content on Software Lead Weekly, “The Effective Engineer”, and others touch upon. I thought I would add some heuristics that might roughly map to what they are saying:

  • Engineering management is not engineering. It is its own separate career path, let alone a set of tasks to do, and it’s impossible to be an engineer and be an effective engineering manager at the same time. Things like tying engineering to business impact, ensuring communications between engineering and other departments remains open and productive, and recruiting are full time jobs.

  • Engineering management is a highly active process. Passive management doesn’t work because entropy is the natural state of things. Code becomes crufty and the state of the art increasingly leaves you behind, people become bored and restless, and corporate politics increase interdivision and intradivision suspcisions and reduce social trust and communications. These are constant burning fires that must be addressed and looked out for. A good analogy of this may be pipelines, where material is constantly moving, or static and the pipeline becomes crufty and requires replacement or maintenance. Formulating processes to keep these fires under control is key to success as an engineering manager.

  • Make sure you help, and not hurt, people when doing things. Good managers place their subordinates and their interests first; knowing what that means and acting on that knowledge takes time, practice, and introspection. At the very minimum, it means not being the performance bottleneck of the team (e.g. not requiring that every purchase order must be signed off on no matter the dollar cost), and at best, it means going around and relieving the performance bottlenecks of the team (e.g. ensuring that engineers have the correct system permissions on AWS for their job).

This e-book seemed a little on the expensive side (may be a volume thing), but I think it’s a good show of support for self-publishing and contains good content. It is a good buy.