Engineering Management for the Rest of Us Book Review

I read this book by Sarah Drasner a few months ago and long story short, I highly recommend it to people in an Engineering Manager role. While I believe the book seems to be targeted at people who are new to the role, there’s so much good stuff in here, that I’d be surprised if someone who has decent amount of experience (in Engineering Management) doesn’t learn something new

Engineering Management for the Rest of Us is jam-packed with useful advice, where Drasner doesn’t waste time saying things in 2 pages, that can be covered well in one paragraph.

It doesn’t hurt either that it was hard to put down - Drasner is an engaging writer.

She shares anecdotes from her experience as an Engineering Manager, including when she was first in the role, as well as things managers can actually try out, on their team.

Here are a few of my highlights in the book and what I took away from them:

The Value of Values

In a work setting, it’s common to talk about company values. Maybe, if you work at a company that actually takes those seriously, you’ll see those values in the day to day.

But in the past ten years, I haven’t really heard much talk about personal values within a work setting. And this is what Drasner dives into.

While we may know that the people we work with may have different values to us, I’ve found it be very useful to pay closer attention to how people behave (and also double check my team’s Ways of Working, which also indicated what they value) and see how values reflect themselves there (Though I admit that it is then open to misinterpretation).

I haven’t yet gotten around to doing the Value activity that Drasner recommends, but hope to get around to it at some point.

The Importance of One-on-one Meetings

Ever since I’ve started in my role in mid-November, I’ve instinctively known that it’s important to prioritise 1:1s as I believed the following:

Drasner expands on this and reminds the reader that 1:1s are more for the employee (than the manager) and it’s a forum in which an employee can raise their concerns. She explains that while it’s easier for the manager to speak directly to the employee, the opposite isn’t always true. (My understanding is because of the fact a manager often manages multiple people.)

Giving Feedback

Many years of being an active Toastmaster meant I already knew the importance of giving and receiving feedback.

In this book, Drasner touches on the fact that while feedback is important, you also need to keep one’s ego in mind. You have to find a balance.

Now this is me interpreting things a bit here, I believe that people have an idea of themselves before you give them feedback. And then once you give them feedback, it’s a case of them being able to align this new perspective with what they already have of themselves.

At this point they can choose to accept it or reject it.

Drasner explains that it can help to remind them you are not judging them (when giving the feedback) but you are trying to help.

Prioritising Your Team’s Work

“If everything is important, nothing is.”

What i really liked here, is that Drasner explained clearly why you, as a manager, need to prioritise your team’s work. She also shared some concrete ideas on how to go about this.

Communicating As A Manager

We’ve all been there. Received a direct message from our boss asking “If we can talk” or a random meeting invite from our boss with no agenda.

Her chapter on communicating as a manager was probably one of my favourites.

The section on thinking of it from an audience’s perspective was particularly thought-provoking. While this is something I am conscious about when delivering presentations, I need to be more deliberate about this in other contexts such as emails, casual chats and direct messages online.

“Like it or not, when you enter leadership roles, your words have weight.”