Thursday, July 12, 2012

Review: Team Geek

Full disclosure: I was paid to review and provide criticism of an early version of Team Geek. I knew Brian Fitzpatrick and Ben Collins-Sussman from my time at Google, and there was no way I wasn't going to help them out when they asked me to review a book about one of my favorite topics: the sociology and politics of software developments. Incidentally, one of my early reviewers for Startup Engineering Management told me that the book's great, but it's too late for my manager. My response is that books like the one I wrote and Team Geek are not for people who are already actively bad managers: those people wouldn't read this book unless their managers beat them over the head with it, and maybe not even then. These books are meant for people who actively don't want to be sucky managers, or want to identify sucky managers before foolishly working for them.

Both authors are engineering managers at Google. However, much of their experience pre-dates Google, and this is a good thing: they have a lot of experience with software engineers in general, and a lot of exposure in the open source community such as subversion, where they're both big shots.

A lot of the book is focused on how to deal with people in a technical environment. There's an entire chapter on how to manage people (cleverly sneaked in there even though the book claims not to be a book about how to manage people), and one on how to deal with users. A lot of the advise is on-topic, backed up with anecdotes, and well-illustrated with examples. My biggest critiques of the original version of the book have now been eliminated and the prose is relatively tight. The section on how to get your manager to love you (i.e., provide frequent updates and over-communicate) is great and everyone should take it.

While this book will not make you a better office politician directly, reading it and applying its principles will at least make you a better engineer in many ways, and more effective at getting things done. Big companies that typically don't bother training new engineering managers could do worse than hand a copy of this book (together with Peopleware) to all new engineering managers.

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