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Top 7 books every CTO should read

Building the tech infrastructure of your business, choosing the right tools, and outlining a foolproof technical strategy, all while managing a diverse team of engineers — if you’re a CTO, then this is probably what your day looks like. 

And when you have a never-ending list of responsibilities, a team to lead, and deadlines to deliver, keeping up with the latest technologies and management strategies can be difficult. In our first edition, we curated a list of podcasts for CTOs, that you can read on the go. Today, we’ve curated a list of books that you can read when you unwind after a long day at work. 

In this piece, we discuss seven books for CTOs — books that can give you all the advice that you’ll ever need. From people-management to leveraging new technologies, embracing change, and understanding your engineers, these seven books can prove to be an invaluable source of practical knowledge that you can use on a daily basis. 

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1. Modern CTO 

Author: Joel Beasley 

Modern CTO by Joel Beasley is one of the most recommended books for CTOs for many reasons. Joel first began writing code at the age of 13 and went on to sell his first technology for one million dollars when he was only 18 years old. Today, Joel is a CTO, working with clients ranging from start-ups to billion-dollar enterprises. 

Modern CTO is a book that is based directly on Joel Beasley’s personal experience, where he talks about the challenges he faced, lessons learned, and things to avoid when you’re a CTO. 

Joel Beasley

“You’ve got to be able to communicate in life, it’s enormously important. Schools, to some extent, under emphasize that. If you can’t communicate and talk to other people and get across your ideas, you’re giving up your potential.”

– Joel Beasley

Why you should read it: 

Modern CTO is a book that is based on a simple, yet fundamental principle — developers are not CTOs, but developers can learn how to be CTOs. 

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, steer clear of some common UX mistakes, and more. Modern CTO is the ultimate guidebook if you’re making the transition 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 a range of diverse topics such as people management, pens, and werewolves! 

What makes Managing Humans a must-read book for CTOs is the humourous yet insightful management experiences of the author 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, Micheal Lopp has managed to pull no punches to deliver stories that will speak to you. 

Michael Lopp

“My definition of a great manager is someone with whom you can make a connection no matter where you sit in the organization chart.”

– 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 if you’re simply wondering what a day in the life of a CTO looks like, look no further. 

The book also 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 that 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. 

3. The Lean Startup

Author: Eric Ries 

Eric Ries is many things — a blogger, entrepreneur, innovator, and a visionary. Also known as the ‘software guy’, Eric Ries founded the Lean Startup theory, which is aimed at shortening product development cycles to improve marketing functions. 

The Lean Startup, nicknamed as 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. 

Eric Ries

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

– Eric Ries

Why you should read it: 

The Lean Startup steers clear of elaborate business plans and focuses on offering entrepreneurs a way to test their vision, adapt, and adjust, to create a successful business. By doing so, it 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, Ben wrote this book to help CTOs maneuver the difficulties of running a tech business. 

Ben Horowitz

“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 you cannot ask for help without showing weakness.”

– 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 problems that confront tech leaders every day, the challenges, the negotiations, and dismissals, hiring developers, managing and motivating your team, cultivating a CEO mentality, knowing when to cash in, and more. 

This fantastic business book mirrors humor, honesty, straight talk, and business lessons with lyrics from famous rap songs. A must-read for veteran tech entrepreneurs as well as those who are aspiring to create their own new ventures. 

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

Author: Rorie Devine

Rorie Devine, with his experience in over 20 permanent and interim CIO/CTO positions, has curated a literal ‘Bible’ of insights on how to be a successful CTO. Also featured on the cover of the CIO Magazine twice, Rorie has overseen three successful startups in his career. The CTO ¦ CIO Bible covers over 100 topics that are related to game-changing tactics and values that any CTO can apply in their day-to-day work. 

Rorie Devine

“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

Why you should read it: 

The CTO ¦ CIO Bible, written in an entertaining and digestible manner, is an extremely 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 coupled with the odd bit of humour. Some of the 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, the creator of Enterprise Social Systems, is a consultant who is passionate about organisational change. Bühler has had years of first-hand experience helping companies adapt to the changes they face on a day-to-day basis. 

Leading Exponential Change is a book that will open your mind to the unique challenges that 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. 

Erich R. Buhler

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

– 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, as the CTO of your business do? 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, organizational psychology, the neuroscience of change, and more. 

7. Rework 

Authors: Jason Fried and David Hansson

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

Jason Fried

“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

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 how to embark on the road less travelled, and yet, succeed in your business. 

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

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