Book review: The Manager’s Path

Author: Camile Fournier
Subtitle: A guide for tech leaders navigating growth & change.

TLDR; This is a very good guide on how the individual’s journey could look like in the tech company if they choose to follow the management track. It has plenty of management wisdom yet is delivered in a lightweight way giving directions for further in-depth exploration. Personally, I was very impressed by the density and quality of the thoughts in the book, so I will encourage every team member to read at least the first several chapters. Thank you, Camille, for this book!

The author

Camile Fournier (@skamille) is currently a Managing Director at Two Sigma. She studied at  Carnegie Mellon University, worked at Microsoft, went from the tech lead to CTO at Rent The Runway, and took many other leadership positions in different companies. Here is a great quote from the book expressing the growth experience of Camille:

As the organization scaled, so did I. I had mentors, coaches, and friends who provided valuable advice, but no one was there to tell me specifically what to do. There was no safety net, and the learning curve was brutal.

In the “Manager’s path” book Camille shares her lessons and own experience as well as describes in many details different stages of the engineering management career. You can find more of her posts on medium.

For whom?

I think this book will be valuable for many people at different career levels, starting from middle engineers to tech leaders and engineering managers of any grade. 

Engineers will benefit from better understanding their mentors and managers, taking a look at what leadership roles are, and getting prepared for the first steps if they decide to follow that path.

Current leaders will find some great tips and ideas for their day-to-day work as well as insights about senior leadership roles.

The book might be interesting for non-tech leaders too because they can learn a lot about the life of their colleagues from tech departments.

How to read

The book is very well structured and you can jump straight into the level of your interest. However, I’d recommend starting from the introduction and covering at least one chapter below and above the level of interest. And don’t forget to take a pencil or a notebook for taking notes. Believe me, you’ll want to do so. Personally, I enjoyed reading all the chapters one after another.

My impression

I want to say that the book is amazing and let you read it on your own, but that would be unfair to you 🙂 Each chapter has great thoughts and sparked more than one idea in my head.

Chapters about the levels I’ve already experienced (up to leading the team) resonated with me a lot. They had a lot of precise notes, observations, and tips. I wanted to scream something like “Yes! Yes! Yes! This is so true!” or “I wish all my teammates knew this!”.

Chapters about the next leadership levels were very interesting. They made me play with my imagination but still were much vaguer because I haven’t had such an experience yet. I also felt that life at the higher levels varies a lot depending on the context and organization culture which I believe is perfectly fine and expected for those positions.

Anyway, the book has left a very positive impression and I think I’ll read it again more than once.

My favorite quotes

I was thinking to pick three to five quotes for this section, but after making an initial list of 43 it was unrealistic to shrink it down that much. I struggled while was removing quotes from the initial list, so here are the ones I couldn’t get rid of. Some of them are very obvious and simple but still very powerful.

… experience of being managed is the foundation on which you build your own management philosophy. Unfortunately, I’ve come to see that there are people who have never in their careers had a good manager.

That is a very good definition of a problem in the industry as well as the source of trouble because engineering management is hard, and not every person steps into the role striving to become good at it.

Developing the sense of ownership and authority for your own experiences at work, and not relying on your manager to set the entire tone for your relationship, is an important step in owning your career and workplace happiness.

Accepting the fact that you own your experience was the biggest game-changer not only in my career but in my life. Staying in the same spot while suffering and complaining is also the choice, but not mine 🙂

One of the early lessons in leadership, …, is that people are not good at saying precisely what they mean in a way that others can exactly understand.

I noticed it during the past year as well. No matter how clear the message sounds in your head it will land differently on people’s minds, so it might be a good idea to validate what people heard, e.g. by asking them for a summary or by taking shared notes.

… there is nothing worse than showing up for your big job with nowhere to sit and no access to the systems.

New people onboarding process is one of the key elements of team success at times of rapid growth. Welcoming new people, making them feel you were waiting for them, is a significant booster if done right. So make sure you allocate enough time to prepare for onboarding a new teammate. If don’t know how? Read the book for many great tips.

The idea that the tech lead role should automatically be given to the most experienced engineer, …., is a common misconception that even experienced managers fall for.

“There are more experienced people in a team” – several people mentioned this to me as a blocker for looking into leadership roles. In practice though, it’s absolutely not a blocker! In my opinion, it’s good when a leader knows he/she is not the smartest person in the room, so they have to bring other skills and tools for leading the team in the right direction.

My final advice is to remember that you can switch tracks if you want. It is common for people to try out management at some point, realize they don’t enjoy it, and go back to technical track. Nothing about this choice have to be permanent, but go it with your eyes wide open. Each role has benefits and drawbacks, and it’s up to you to feel out what you enjoy the most.

I hope this quote removes another common fear among tech folks looking at leadership roles. It’s a different job, you may like it or not, both are fine. 

In the long run, if you don’t figure out how to let go of details, delegate, and trust your team, you’re likely to suffer personally. … Your time is too valuable to waste, and your team deserves a manager who is willing to trust them to do things on their own.

Trust your team, they won’t let you down and will save you from burnout.

Whatever the procedure is at your company, the process of coaching someone out should begin long before any performance improvement document is filled with HR, and long before the actual act of firing. One of the basic rules of management is the rule of no surprises, particularly negative one. You need to understand what a person is supposed to be giving you, and if that isn’t happening, make it clear to her early and often that she is not meeting expectations.

That’s probably one of the hardest things you need to do as a leader. Letting someone know they don’t meet expectations is usually a tough conversation, but avoiding tough conversations with the hope that things will get better soon is the worst path you can take. Poor performance or misbehavior should be addressed sooner than later because it harms overall team health. But, don’t rush by calling HR to kick somebody out of the team because everyone can have a hard time in their life. First, do your best to help a person with getting back on track, but if it doesn’t work out stay clear and honest with the person and help them to leave the company gracefully for the sake of the overall team.

Appropriate context is what helps teams make a good decision about how and where to focus their energy. As the manager, it’s not your job to make all of those decisions by yourself.

Yep, as a manager, you better focus the energy to create conditions where the team is capable to make decisions rather than deciding everything on your own. Autonomy is one of the basic psychological needs.

Delegation is the primary way you claw yourself out of the feeling of having too many plates spinning at once.

It’s also a great way of developing talents in a team.

As you grow more into leadership positions, people will look to you for behavioral guidance. What you want to teach them is how to focus. To that end, there are two areas I encourage you to practice modeling, right now: figuring out what’s important, and going home.

This year was very busy for me and for many of us at Automattic. One of my biggest insights from this adventure is for success you don’t need to work more hours, you rather need to work on the right things.

Remember, you’re not expected to know everything just because you’re a manager.

No comments, just remember that.

The processes should have value even when they are not followed perfectly.

People are not machines, they do mistakes, so consider making fragile processes more resilient or get rid of them at all, especially complex and fragile ones.

You have to be able to manage yourself if you want to be good at managing others. The more time you spend understanding yourself, the way you react, the things that inspire you, and the things that dirve you crazy, the better off you will be.

I simply agree here, self-awareness, coaching, and other practices helped me a lot with getting better as a human and a leader.

If not convinced yet, believe me, there is much more in that book. I encourage you to buy a copy and keep it nearby on your bookshelf!

4 thoughts on “Book review: The Manager’s Path

      1. Ha, I went to check, and it seems I hadn’t added it yet. So now it’s there, it’s 1199 out of 1198 (did I just find a bug???). Clearly, it belongs higher in the list…. and clearly the list needs pruning, but who has time for that when there are so many books to read! 😆

        Liked by 1 person

  1. > So now it’s there, it’s 1199 out of 1198 (did I just find a bug???).

    Wow! Impressive number and discovery 😄

    > Clearly, it belongs higher in the list…. and clearly the list needs pruning, but who has time for that when there are so many books to read! 😆

    Ha-ha, so true!


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