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Roger Jin
Roger Jin

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Top 10 Books Every CTO Should Read

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As a CTO in a rapidly evolving industry, the knowledge you had when you first entered the industry is no longer sufficient. In fact, the knowledge you had this time last year is already outdated.

But when you have a long list of responsibilities, a team to lead, and deadlines to hit, keeping up with the latest technological trends and ideas can be difficult – although it is your job to do exactly at.

Reading the right blogs and subscribing to the right newsletters will help, but those bite-sized nuggets of knowledge won’t keep you at the cutting edge of tech.

Regularly attending conferences and networking events is one way to go, but that strategy isn’t friendly to your schedule. A book on the other hand, can be moulded around even the most crammed calendar. To help you get the most out of your reading time, we’ve hand picked ten books we think every CTO should read. Â

1. Rework

This book was written by Jason Fried and David Hansson of the legendary development company, 37 Signals. It’s very straightforward and down to earth, but it still offers hard-hitting advice on how to run a digital agency efficiently.

Rework exposes a lot of myths that are currently holding back your business and offers alternative approaches. And it’s not all theory and ideas, either. It’s based upon the practical advice they used to create and grow their own company.

You won’t find any boring business plans, or team management exercises in this book. But instead innovative and practical approaches to getting work done and creating awesome products.

2. The Phoenix Project

The Phoenix Project is a unique title in a few ways. It aims to educate you about DevOps processes in the form of a novel. This approach makes it a very engaging and interesting read, which can’t be said for a lot of other technical-oriented books.

In this book, you’ll learn about the similarities between IT and manufacturing, and how taking a systems-thinking approach can greatly accelerate team productivity. If you’re looking for a light and valuable read that teaches you while entertaining you, then this is worth the read.

3. Hooked

Today’s digital marketplace can be summed up in one word; Noise. To catch some consumers, you’ll need to get them hooked on your brand. That’s what this book is all about.

Hooked tackles the human psychology behind what makes some products stick and become part of our daily routine – while others simply fade away.

Hooked isn’t filled with abstract theory, it’s a practical guide for startup founders to help you build better products.

4. The Mythical Man Month

This book has been tremendously influential across the software development space and has remained helpful to CTOs despite being first published over 30 years ago.

Part of the reason it’s remained so timeless is due to the principle that guides the book; software changes, but people don’t. This book gives an extensive breakdown of the human element present in software engineering.

Put simply, if you want to grow as both a CTO and a team leader, then you need to read this book.

5. The Lean Startup

In this book, Eric Reis encourages companies to embrace the startup mentality, which seeks to use capital more efficiently, while maximizing human creativity. No matter the size of the company, or the scale of projects you manage, Reis says the startup mentality is the strongest one you can adopt.

The book advocates leaving off outdated business principles to manage your team and encourages the reader to constantly test their vision, and become more flexible in line with the ever-evolving digital marketplace. This lean and flexible methodology extends into programming, too.

6. Continuous Delivery

The art of releasing software is typically a painful and time-consuming process, but it doesn’t have to be. This book sets a new road in software delivery called continuous delivery.

They offer a set of principles and tangible practices that’ll enable you to rapidly release, high quality, new functionalities to users, without the usual headache. You’ll learn how to get changes released in a matter of hours, or minutes, instead of the weeks or months it’ll take without this book.

It’s not magic, but a way to automate building, testing, and deployment while enhancing collaboration between different team members. If you want to get software out the door faster, and bug-free, then you need this book by your side.

7. Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams

This book is dubbed a classic for good reason. It cuts to the crux of most issues that arise in software development, which is that most issues aren’t technical, they’re human.

As software becomes an even more integral part of our daily lives, the focus on the human element of software development becomes even more important. Creating better software starts with building better teams.

If you want to become a better leader and understand how to inspire, motivate, manage, while getting things done, then this book needs to be your bible.

8. Creating a Software Engineering Culture

Yet another book on the power of creating and understanding your software development teams. This book offers a clear approach to improving the quality of your software development process and creating a culture around software engineering.

Think of this book as a series of guidelines to help you become a more effective leader and help to produce better code at the same time. It doesn’t dive incredibly deep into each topic but instead provides enough to get you started. Pick an area of focus that your organization is lacking and dive in.

9. Managing Humans: Biting and Humorous Tales of a Software Engineering Manager

Managing Humans is an entertaining and thought-provoking book. It draws upon the author’s management experience at companies like Apple, Symantec, Netscape, and many others. There’s no other book on managing tech teams that are written in this style.

You’ll learn from his stories and depth of experience about how to handle team conflict, manage different personalities, build in innovation, create a lasting engineering culture, and a lot more.

This book belongs on your bookshelf and will have you referring back time and time again, even if it’s just for the wit and wisdom packed within the pages.

10. Don’t Make Me Think! A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability

The title of the book alone should pique the interest of CTOs everywhere.

This book encourages the reader to get inside the mind of consumers to better understand web design. It’s basically a psychology book on how today’s users navigate and use the web.

 It’s not the most technical book on the list, but it will help you and your team deliver products that the end user will actually enjoy using.

Broadened Horizons

Any of the ten books above will help you become a better CTO. However, be sure to mix these uber-relevant titles in with books that focus on things like workplace psychology and team leadership – you know, the kind of books that don’t necessarily help improve as a CTO, but will help you improve as a person and colleague.

Can you recommend any books for CTOs? Share them with us in the comments section below!

This article was originally posted here.

Top comments (13)

zaunerc profile image
Christoph Zauner

I can recommend the book User Story Mapping by Jeff Patton (O'Reilly Media). Of course it focuses on the concept of user story mapping but it also includes a lot of good information on how to deal with tight schedules or what things to really focus on when creating new products / features.

codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald • Edited

I would add one more: Dreaming in Code by Scott Rosenberg! It's a funny, but eye-opening true story of one software project where everything went wrong! It does a great job of highlighting how real projects work...and how they die. [I've read it six times.]

ben profile image
Ben Halpern

I've read 4 of the first 5. Great list.

pokom profile image

Out of curiosity, which have you read? I have only read Rework. I started Phoenix Project, then got caught up in other endeavors and meant to come back to it.

I would love have a mapping and a road map whenever I see articles listicles on great books. You go to a webpage and import your library, pick topics or books that you're actively reading, and then generating a visualizations that help highlight key items. I could see having a "directory" listing of major topics(think of pushing through the table of contents for each book through an NLP processor and creating tags). Then to take it a step further, I would like to see a directed graph of how books relate to each other. IE, See how topics are referenced throughout each book. Then you can embed this content in your article, and not only do you see a great list of books, but you can view just how important they are!

The reason for this hopefully is relate able, I have a hard time understanding whether or not I have enough information to even begin reading a specific book. I find it important to have just enough context on a topic before I jump into "the gems". I love taking samples of each book to gain some some insight, but I often find by time I finish the sample I've either moved on or found it not as relevant. If I saw upfront just how the books or authors are connected to what I've already read, it may help recognize what I stand to gain from reading each book.

bradledford profile image
Brad Ledford

I used to try to be "efficient" in this manner when reading, Mark, but I've since given up and now I just read, every day, and everything that anyone I trust or admire recommends. I typically try to buy the hard bound version and then I just trust that a) I won't remember all of the lessons in first or even the second read and b) I can re-read the book when something I read later triggers me to revisit the subject. Since I may not get around to that for some time, I like having the physical copy as a durable reminder to pick it up and revisit.

Thread Thread
gjstein profile image
Gregory J. Stein

This is great advice. I cannot say I frequently re-read my books, but when something "triggers me to revisit" a passage, I can ground the material in an experience in my own work/life, which helps me to internalize the lesson.

jokulsarlon profile image
Iván Peralta

Great list!! I've read Hooked, Drive, The Lean Startup ( & Lean UX), so lots of new book to be include in my goodreads pipeline. I would also suggest:

  • The Pragmatic Programmer (Andrew Hunt)
  • Switch (Heath Brothers)
  • Leaders Eat Last (Simon Sinek)
  • Tribal Leadership (Dave Logan)
  • The Power of Habit (Charles Duhigg)

Looking forward many more suggestions!!


dev3l profile image
Justin L Beall • Edited

I have Don't Make Me Think, Lean Startup, Man-month, and Pheonix Project under my belt.
Three additional books I recommend are:

marlonribunal profile image
Marlon Ribunal

Start With Why by Simon Sinek

johnlukeg profile image
John Luke Garofalo • Edited

Wow this list is dope! I'm adding these to my list

cdvel profile image
César D. Velandia

Well-balanced list, pragmatic and soft skills included. I'd add Refactoring by Martin Fowler 👍

jiandongc profile image
Jiandong Chen

Great list, Thanks! Another title to add here is "Delivering Happiness" by Tony Hsieh.

jiandongc profile image
Jiandong Chen

tony hsieh