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Monday, May 04, 2020

Review: The Making of a Manager

To a large extent, we are all products of our history and experiences. I spent my career at startups, so when I wrote Startup Engineering Management, I wrote a lot about the hiring process end to end. Julie Zhou, however, spent her entire career at Facebook, so for her, "working hard on recruiting" meant finding more time to interview.

The Making of a Manager is a good management book for people in precisely Julie Zhou's shoes: working at a hypergrowth environment after the growth has started, and with a ton of mentorship available and lots of money. The effect is that most of her advice revolves around the interpersonal sociology (what others would call politics):
if nothing my report said could convince me to change my mind, it’s insincere to act as if she had had a say. What if she responds, “Actually, I do have the time for it”? Or if she brings up a slew of other reasons why she’s the best candidate? I’d only be scrambling to give her another excuse, which would make her feel unheard. (Kindle loc 1333)
And her book also perfectly illustrates how low the expectations we have in industry for management positions:
at the point in which your team becomes four or five people, you should have a plan for how to scale back your individual contributor responsibilities so that you can be the best manager for your people. (Kindle loc 596)
Our standards for management are so low that we think that the management span of attention is at most 4-5. Compared to the great managers I know, who've successfully managed as many as a hundred people without intermediaries, most companies' approach to management guarantees that Zhou's perception is correct: if you do not give sufficient management training and set low expectations, that's precisely what you get.

Another interesting thing about Zhou's book is that Facebook was famously good about promoting from inside. So she assumes that's how everyone else operates and doesn't consider that other possibilities exist.

I don't want to put down this book. It's worth reading for the many practicalities of operating inside Facebook. It's incomplete, as opposed to a deeper understanding of how organizations should be constructed and operated, and doesn't provide those organizational principles. But if you're a Facebook employee newly promoted into management (and want to do the minimum so you can manage your 4-5 people) I bet this is an essential book and thereby is recommended.

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