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The Making of a Manager

By Andrew Lovett-Barron
Published in Reading
November 28, 2021
2 min read

I loathe management books, with a few exceptions. There’s a certain quality around communicating the design of power relationships and how things get done through them that makes for … I dunno. Something acrid.

But also, the effective and intentional management of a large number of human beings towards some outcome is a critical and predictable path towards progress (itself a nebulous concept), so management books are also fascinating. Something acrid might bring the dish together. Or maybe masked by those it helps bring to the fore.

Julie Zhuo’s book “The Making of a Manager” is not the kind of book I would normally enjoy, but I ended up loving it. Usually, I prefer something a bit more on the theory side — the Starfish and the Spider being a potential example. But instead, this book is almost relentlessly practical in outlining how different interactions, impulses, and rituals in the software-inflected, “knowledge work” oriented workplace are of value or aren’t. And all of it is taken from a lens that caring for self, team, and the work are more nuanced ideas than we give credit for.

Zhuo’s speaking and blog are both pretty well known, and one of the key frames for the book is around her growth as a designer, manager of designers, and manager of managers of product and practice teams. From that place of having grown up within a particular culture (Facebook), it’s worth being a bit critical of the specific applicability of her advice. Is it just for product teams? Just digital folk? I’d argue yes… mostly. The cadence of work that she describes is familiar for anyone working around making software, but having interviewed a lot of folk in other environments — there can be a pretty wide gap. Saying that many of the core principles, like her taxonomy of “new managers” (how they get to the role); her considerations around feedback and the gulf between intent, reception, and outcome; and the chapter on building culture, are all pretty universally relevant if you’re someone who is interested in the craft of management.

This last bit is what I think makes this book valuable. Zhuo is a designer turned manager who invested in managing people as a craft. I had the good fortune to watch my wife, Ayla, go through that same journey, wherein being a manager is a tactile, tangible, and impactful craft. So it’s maybe little wonder that I found this book compelling and insightful — it just gave language to so many of the things I’ve seen her do in her own growth.

So, all that said, I can massively and enthusiastically recommend this book. It’s an insightful and welcoming read, and it made me think a lot about crafting the craft of working together.

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Andrew Lovett-Barron

Software Designer and Researcher

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