Top 11 Books every CTO should read

Books for CTOs

As a CTO, your day may involve building your business’ tech infrastructure, choosing the right tools, and outlining a foolproof technical strategy — all while managing a dedicated software development team.

Keeping up with the latest technologies and management strategies can be challenging with such responsibilities.

To help you out, we’ve curated and analysed 11 books for CTOs that can give you all the advice you’ll ever need while you unwind after a long day at work.

From people management to leveraging new tech, embracing change, and understanding your engineers, these books can be an invaluable source of practical knowledge you can use daily.


1. Modern CTO

Author: Joel Beasley

Modern CTO is one of the most recommended books for CTOs for many reasons (and we’ll delve into them later).

But first, let’s talk about its author.

Joel Beasley began writing code at 13 and went on to sell his first technology for one million dollars when he was only 18 years old. Today, he is a CTO, working with clients ranging from startups to billion-dollar enterprises.

His most famous book, Modern CTO, is based on Beasley’s personal experience. He talks about his challenges, lessons learned, and what to avoid when you’re a CTO.

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You've got to be able to communicate in life. It’s enormously important. Schools, to some extent, under-emphasise that. If you can’t communicate, talk to others, and get your ideas across, you’re giving up your potential.
Joel Beasley
Joel Beasley

Why you should read it:

Modern CTO is based on a fundamental principle: developers are not CTOs but can learn to be one.

Through this book, you can learn how to successfully navigate the unexplored transition between the role of a developer and a CTO. You’ll also learn how to manage people and deadlines, know when to abandon a sinking ship and build a better one, deal with poor code, avoid some common UX mistakes, and more.

Modern CTO is the ultimate guidebook if you’re transitioning from ‘a’ developer to ‘the’ CTO.

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

Author: Michael Lopp

Micheal Lopp, a Silicon Valley-based engineering manager, is known for his unique writings across diverse topics such as people management, pens, and werewolves!

What makes Managing Humans a must-read book for CTOs is Lopp’s humourous yet insightful management experiences at Apple, Netscape, Borland, and Symantec, among others.

Based in Silicon Valley, where a dull day at work includes throwing chairs and yelling at each other, Lopp has pulled no punches to deliver stories that will speak to you.

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My definition of a great manager is someone with whom you can make a connection no matter where you sit in the organisation chart.
Michael Lopp
Michael Lopp

Why you should read it:

Micheal Lopp believes that writing code is easy. Managing humans is not, and that’s why you need a book to help you do it. Whether you’re an aspiring CTO, a current CTO, or simply wondering what a day in the life of a CTO looks like, Managing Humans is for you.

The book highlights fundamental leadership aspects such as dealing with your boss, handling conflicts, hiring the right engineers, why everyone hates meetings, motivating employees, understanding different engineering personalities, and, most importantly, thriving in everything you do.

There’s no doubt that this book has a substantial amount of information. But that’s exactly why people want to read it.

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3. The Lean Startup

Author: Eric Ries

Eric Ries is a blogger, entrepreneur, innovator, and visionary.

Also known as the ‘software guy’, Ries founded the Lean Startup method to shorten product development cycles to improve marketing functions.

His book The Lean Startup, nicknamed the ‘Bible of entrepreneurship’, provides a scientific approach to building and managing successful tech startups in an age where innovation is the need of the hour.

The book introduces a new strategy to change how companies are built, and products launched.

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This is one of the most important lessons of the scientific method: if you cannot fail, you cannot learn.
Eric Ries
Eric Ries

Why you should read it:

The Lean Startup steers clear of elaborate business plans and offers entrepreneurs a way to test their vision, adapt, and adjust to create a successful business. Doing so enables businesses to shift gears with agility, modifying plans on the go, inch by inch.

4. The Hard Thing About Hard Things

Author: Ben Horowitz

Ben Horowitz, the author of The Hard Thing About Hard Things, is the co-founder of Andreessen Horowitz and one of Silicon Valley’s most respected tech entrepreneurs and investors.

Known for his practical advice on building a tech startup, Horowitz wrote this book to help CTOs manoeuvre the difficulties of running a tech business.

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Hard things are hard because there are no easy answers or recipes. They are hard because your emotions are at odds with your logic. They are hard because you don’t know the answer and cannot ask for help without showing weakness.
Ben Horowitz
Ben Horowitz

Why you should read it:

The Hard Thing About Hard Things is one of the best books for CTOs because it doesn’t talk about how great it is to start a business — it talks about how difficult it is to run one.

The book analyses the daily problems confronting tech leaders, challenges, negotiations, dismissals, hiring developers, managing and motivating your team, cultivating a CEO mentality, knowing when to cash in, and more.

This fantastic business book mirrors humour, honesty, straight talk, and business lessons with lyrics from famous rap songs. It’s a must-read for veteran tech entrepreneurs and those aspiring to create their own new ventures.

5. The CTO ¦ CIO Bible: The Mission Objectives Strategies and Tactics Needed To Be a Super Successful CTO

Author: Rorie Devine

With his experience in over 20 permanent and interim CIO/CTO positions, Rorie Devine has curated a compendium of insights on being a successful CTO.

Also featured on the cover of the CIO Magazine twice, Devine has overseen three successful startups in his career. His book The CTO ¦ CIO Bible covers over 100 topics related to game-changing tactics and values any CTO can apply to their routine.

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If you think about all of the great people you’ve worked with in the past, some of the things that they probably have in common are that they are passionate about what they do, they have energy, and they bring urgency.
Rorie Devine
Rorie Devine

Why you should read it:

The CTO ¦ CIO Bible, entertaining and digestible, is a highly informative and educational book that doesn’t beat around the bush.

The book covers everything you need to know to be a successful CTO, condensed into 100 pieces of actionable insights and the odd bit of humour. Some topics covered include accountability, technology game changers, creating a competitive advantage, managing relationships, professionalism, and growth via Agile approaches.

6. Leading Exponential Change: Go Beyond Agile and Scrum to Run Even Better Business Transformations

Author: Erich R. Bühler

Erich R. Bühler, the creator of Enterprise Social Systems, is a consultant passionate about organisational change with years of experience helping companies adapt to daily fluctuations.

Bühler’s Leading Exponential Change is a book that will open your mind to the unique challenges different enterprises face in the modern world. Through his experience, Erich proves that simply having the right people on board is not enough — you must have the right mindset to lead the change.

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Understanding frameworks, functionalities, principles, techniques, or new ways to manage people is no longer enough. We must also understand deeper factors of organisational change and learn how these can help entire companies to improve.
Erich R. Bühler
Erich R. Bühler

Why you should read it:

The relentless market innovations, such as AI, Big Data, and Agile Methodology, have all established disruptive change as the new reality. In such a scenario, what can you do as your business’s CTO? This book answers that simple yet profound question.

Bühler, through Leading Exponential Change, has developed a set of revolutionary principles and techniques to help you build a team of responsive people who challenge traditional thinking. He also explores what happens to the brain during change, methods for improving innovation, organisational psychology, the neuroscience of change, and more.

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7. Rework

Authors: Jason Fried and David Hansson

Founders of Basecamp — a project-management tool — Jason Fried and David Hansson discuss the non-traditional approach to running a successful business in Rework.

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Workaholics aren't heroes. They don't save the day, they just use it up. The real hero is home because she figured out a faster way
Jason Fried
Jason Fried

Why you should read it:

Rework always finds itself on the list of books for CTOs because it’s unlike anything you’ll ever read.

While most business books give you the same old advice of building business plans and studying your competition, Rework focuses on embarking on the less travelled road and succeeding in your business.

With its straightforward language and relaxed approach, Rework is the perfect playbook for hardcore entrepreneurs, small-business owners, CTOs, and anyone who wants to be successful, productive, and motivated.

8. The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter

Author: Michael D. Watkins

In The First 90 Days, Michael D. Watkins, co-founder of Genesis Advisors, focuses on the critical transition period when starting a new leadership role.

With his leadership development background, Watkins emphasises that the initial 90 days are crucial for success or failure in a new position.

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A long career at a single company (or even two or three companies) is a thing of the past. Leaders experience many transitions, so the ability to transition quickly and effectively into a new role has become a critical skill.
Michael D. Watkins
Michael D. Watkins

Why you should read it:

The First 90 Days is a practical guide for new leaders, offering ten key principles for a successful transition.

It covers preparing for the shift, accelerating learning, aligning strategies with the business situation, negotiating success with superiors, securing early wins, building effective teams, and creating alliances.

The book highlights self-management and provides a step-by-step framework for leaders to excel in their new roles.

9. Confessions of an Unintentional CTO

Author: Jack Kinsella

Jack Kinsella, the author of Confessions of an Unintentional CTO, embarked on a unique journey from law student to accidental technology leader.

The book chronicles Kinsella’s seven-year odyssey of transforming a simple static HTML/CSS website into a thriving Rails app named Oxbridge Notes. Initially a solopreneur with minimal coding experience, he assumed the role of CTO by necessity, driven by ambitions to enhance the profitability and efficiency of his web business.

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This book is not an academic exercise in collating and synthesising airy theories… instead, it is a bundle of learnings precipitated by sweat and regret.
Jack Kinsella
Jack Kinsella

Why you should read it:

Confessions of an Unintentional CTO explores critical aspects of web application growth, maintenance, and troubleshooting.

It’s a valuable resource for solopreneurs and web developers, offering real-world experiences and practical advice on URL management, payment challenges, testing strategies, etc.

What sets the book apart is the author’s unique narrative style, blending technical insights with personal stories and humour. Notably, Kinsella offers both HTML and luxury Kindle/PDF versions of the book for free!

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10. Continuous Delivery: Reliable Software Releases Through Build, Test, and Deployment Automation

Authors: Jez Humble and David Farley

Continuous Delivery by Jez Humble and David Farley is a game-changer for making software releases fast, reliable, and less of a hassle.

The book builds on the idea of continuous integration (CI) and explains how to create deployment pipelines to turn code smoothly into usable software.

With 20+ years of experience working in the tech and engineering industry, Humble and Farley share real stories of successful projects that evolved from slow, yearly releases to a culture of delivering software frequently.

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We do not believe that there is a “one size fits all” approach to any aspect of software development, let alone a subject area as large as the configuration management and operational control of an enterprise system.
Jez Humble and David Farley
Jez Humble and David Farley

Why you should read it:

Continuous Delivery teaches CTOs how to speed up delivering new software features to users. It emphasises automation and better teamwork between developers, testers, and operations.

By following the book’s advice, you can say goodbye to long, stressful release cycles. Instead, you’ll quickly turn ideas into working code users enjoy daily.

11. The Making of a Manager: What to Do When Everyone Looks to You

Author: Julie Zhuo

The Making of a Manager by Julie Zhuo is a practical guide for anyone stepping into a managerial role. It emphasises that great managers are made, not born, and provides insights into key aspects of effective leadership.

Zhuo draws from her experience as a product design executive in Silicon Valley, sharing relatable anecdotes, actionable advice, and a fresh perspective on leadership.

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The Making of a Manager is everything I wish I’d known when I became a manager at the age of 25.
Julie Zhuo
Julie Zhuo

Why you should read it:

The Making of a Manager is a must-read book for both new and experienced managers.

Readers are encouraged to embrace a growth mindset, continuously learn, and understand that imposter syndrome is a common feeling. Zhuo teaches that effective management is a personal journey, requiring a deep understanding of oneself, delegation skills, and a commitment to fostering a positive team culture.

In summary

It’s a wrap!

We hope this list of 11 books for CTOs helps you advance in your career and understand your engineering team.

Modern CTO and The Making of a Manager guide CTOs in transitioning from developers, emphasising leadership development and effective management.
Managing Humans and The CTO ¦ CIO Bible focus on mastering the art of people management, handling conflicts, motivating teams, and building successful relationships.
The Lean Startup and Rework advocate for agile innovation, scientific startup approaches, and non-traditional business strategies for success.
The Hard Thing About Hard Things and Confessions of an Unintentional CTO offer practical advice on navigating the unique challenges of running a tech business, handling difficulties, and learning from real-world experiences.
Leading Exponential Change and Continuous Delivery explore principles and techniques for leading organisational change and discuss continuous improvement through automation and teamwork.
The First 90 Days highlights the importance of the initial 90 days in a leadership role, offering principles for a successful transition and insights into CTO responsibilities.

While you review these books and look at our list of podcasts for CTOs, you may consider expanding your existing development team.

Feel free to reach out to us by filling out the contact form, and one of our senior executives will be in touch with you shortly.