The best books I read in 2021
I’ve read 4-6 books per month in 2021. I usually spend most of my reading time exploring new subjects. But in 2021, I’ve been very deliberate with reading, or revisiting, books related to specific topics I already had in mind.
My readings in 2021 have helped me:
fight impostor syndrome and do my job better ;
put more structure in my ideas around leadership and how to build high performing engineering organizations ;
compare my previous experiences with that of other leaders, especially in the technology sector ;
crystallize my own leadership philosophy to express it clearly and share it with others.
On Remote Work
The Culture Map
The Culture Map was the first read at the Orbit employees book club. Erin Meyer compares cultural differences using an 8-scales system that explains how they impact business communication.
Good communication is key to group success. The insights from The Culture Map have allowed me to better understand my remote colleagues from more than 7 countries and 3 continents. Instead of being stressed by accidental misunderstandings, I can now observe, learn and improve more quickly from each interaction.
Rituals for Virtual Meetings
I got this book recommendation from a random stranger on Twitter. It’s filled with practical and straightforward advice to make virtual meetings more lively, especially when you spend a lot of your week in meetings.
On Managing Engineering Teams
An Elegant Puzzle
It touches all the most essential systems and tools for an engineering organization to stay high-performing. It’s an extensive toolset to solve growth challenges in your organization.
It’s THE book to read if you want to better understand what differentiates high-performing engineering organizations from others.
A caveat is that Accelerate only touches the DevOps aspect of engineering productivity. The powerful insights in the book could (and have) been easily misinterpreted and cause leaders to not take into account the whole element of productivity besides engineers churning out features very fast. With great power comes great responsibility.
The Making of a Manager
It’s the book I picked up to remind myself of the fundamental aspects of the manager role when I was first promoted at Orbit. The Making of a Manager is written by Julie Zhuo, a former VP of Product Design at Facebook. Highly recommended for new engineering managers and more experienced ones who need reminders on some aspects of the job. Also, a quick read.
On Building a High Performing Organization
You ship your org chart, as the saying goes. How you structure your engineering organization and interactions between your teams affect your software architecture. Team Topologies explains 4 team types and how to use them to build a successful software architecture and engineering culture.
The Great CEO Within
I cannot describe how excellent this book is. It doesn’t dabble into unnecessary details. It’s authored by Matt Mochary, one of the most successful CEO coaches in Silicon Valley, and Alex MacCaw, ex-CEO at Clearbit. It presents a practical set of tools and systems to develop a culture of accountability, coaching, and transparency in your company. I’ve read it when it was still a draft in 2018 and have seen myself returning to it every few months when I need to implement new systems. Highly recommended, even if you are not a CEO.
On Building Great Products
Play Bigger was like a revelation. We’re building a category-creating company at Orbit, and Play Bigger shows a playbook that has worked countless times. A must-read if you want to win your product category.
Suppose you want to empower your Product Engineering teams to build innovative products instead of just being feature factories. In that case, you should read EMPOWERED. It’s always very insightful to read books on product management by Marty Cagan and SVPG. This is an excellent follow-up for INSPIRED. Thanks, Guillaume, for the recommendation!
The Art of Agile Development
A great reminder of what Agile really is. The 2nd edition of this classic, published just 3 months ago, is a refresher on the state-of-the-art.
On Career Development
Machiavelli for Women
“for Women” doesn’t mean this book should be for Women only! It helped me better understand the biases women face in the workspace and the ones I could face as a person of color in the tech industry. It’s helped me better face my fears.
Rise enlightened me on the American professional environment and how to stand out as a leader. Written by Patty Azzarello, who became the youngest General Manager at HP at age 34. Still learning and practicing. My best recommendation of the year.