Review: The Making of a Manager

There is certainly no shortage of management books1. Most of the good ones are written by tenured executives, while the advice bestowed by management consultants tends to be hit-or-miss. I’ve come across more books recently which authored by engineers and engineering managers, though I’m generally wary of suggestions that feel like they overfit into a tech company niche.

Happily, The Making of a Manager is written by a designer.

That said, the author is a VP of Design at Facebook, a prestigious title and role at one of the biggest companies in the world. Despite her position, however, the book feels down-to-earth. She doesn’t focus on high-minded strategies and initiatives and frameworks for success, but instead digs into what it means to go from a senior designer into a manager of designers, and coping with the transition and its new set of responsibilities. It’s an instruction manual meant for those entering their first forays into management.

On one hand, it’s disappointing from the standpoint of keeping the topic at a base level of management; a VP’s responsibilities certainly require a much broader purview of a larger and more complex team, with concerns that match the scale of Facebook as a $500 billion public company. Accordingly, many of the lessons she draws from in the book are those from her early days as a manager, when both her team and Facebook as a company were much smaller.

On the other hand, there is a humility to work through some of the basics of people management—how to run meetings, conduct 1-on-1s, set goals, etc.—that still mattereven for the most senior of managers, overseeing the biggest teams. In fact, I’ve complained of the anti-pattern where folks are Peter-Principled into roles that are beyond their capabilities, and stubborn pride and ego has prevented them from going back to practice a skillset “beneath” their station. From that standpoint, I wish they would read and take such advice from a Facebook VP.

One major caveat is that the author has spent her entire career at Facebook, and so all of the examples and implied cultural norms used in her stories are solely from that single company. It reminded me a bit of Hit Refresh, in that the advice seems best-suited for those who can best identify with that environment, i.e., other Facebookers. In fact, she readily admits that a part of the motivation for her writing this book now—instead of 20 years later upon retirement—is to remind herself of these lessons.

The Making of a Manager is a very approachable management book. It doesn’t tread new ground in the tactics of people and team management, but it’s a fine book for even non-managers so they can understand how their bosses (and the bosses above them, etc.) think about their own roles. For me, it was a good refresher on the things that matter to people on the ground, and coincidentally came at a great time in my own career progression.

  1. I’ve kept up with a lot of them these past few years.

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