Pietro Rea

Notes on “The Manager’s Path” by Camille Fournier

May 19, 2023

I’ve read a few books on engineering management and The Manager’s Path is now one of my favorites. Even if you’re a software engineer and don’t think you’ll ever want to get into management, reading this book will put your colleagues, workplaces and careers into perspective, especially if you’re earlier in your career.

This book, true to its title, describes in detail the path from individual contributor, to tech lead, to engineering manager and beyond. I imagine this book would be most helpful for an engineering manager at a startup, but the book does a good job at keeping its advice applicable to a wide range of office cultures and company sizes. The author herself draws from her own experience as an engineering leader at large financial institutions as well as a venture-backed startup, Rent the Runway in the 2010s.

The book “diffs” the different levels of engineering management, laying out the differences between being a tech lead vs. an engineering manager, or between managing one team vs. managing multiple teams. Unlike other books that lean heavily on the author’s particular style or experience, this book zooms into plenty of specific examples and scenarios but also zooms out to meta-advice when that’s more appropriate. One of my favorite quotes from the book:

“Management tends to be a very culture-specific task in a company. I can give you best practices all day, but if you either work as a manager or hire a manager for a company that’s not a good culture fit, you’ll have problems. There is a reason why many young companies want to seed their management teams with people who’ve been there from the early days and understand the company’s DNA.”

I also found the book strangely therapeutic, since it describes many problems I’ve grappled with but haven’t necessarily discussed with anyone before. In a way I wish I’d read it a few jobs ago. For example, I liked this description of managing several teams at once:

“The best way to describe the feeling of management from here on out is plate spinning. If you’re not familiar with it, plate spinning is a fancy form of juggling where the juggler has several poles, each with a plate spinning on top of it.”

I’ve wanted to read this book ever since a colleague recommended it to me some years ago. But I also wanted to read it for another reason: right out of college, as I was heading to my first job as a software engineer at the Huffington Post, three of my close friends from Princeton went to work as software engineers at Rent the Runway, where Camille was CTO.

I remember this period of my life vividly. Living in NYC, sharing work stories with my friends. Even before I picked up this book, I felt that I knew my fair share about the source material that produced it from when I first started working. And finally reading it felt a bit like the passing of the torch.

Pietro Rea
Written by Pietro Rea, a software engineer, engineering manager and author from northern Virginia.