TLDR: A book summarizing a lot of common sense on working in an engineering organization. It proposed the concept “HRT” – humble, respect, trust – as the general rule for dealing with people, whether they are coworkers, managers, customers.

Chapter 1: The Myth of the Genius Programmer

Linus’ real achievement: lead people and coordinate their work

  • Stallman did not write all GNU
  • Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie did not write the whole UNIX


  • people are afraid of others seeing and judging their work-in-progress
  • Hiding is considered harmful
    • collaboration moves faster
    • “fail early, fail fast, fail often”: tight feedback loops
    • truck factor of project
    • high bandwidth low friction team connection
    • working alone is riskier then working with others

Three pillars of collaboration

  • humility: open to self improvement
    • Lose the ego: self confidence is good, but don’t become like a know it all
    • build a group pride, the collective ego
  • respect: care about others, appreciate their abilities and achievements
    • constructive criticism = respect, care about improvement
  • trust: believe others are competent and will do the right thing
    • Failure is an option: key to learning is to document the failures (postmortems)
      • what was learned? What is going to change?
      • summary, timeline of events, primary cause, impact and damages, fixes, preventions implemented, lessons learned

Software development is team sport

  • Almost all social conflict is due to lack of humility, respect, trust

Adapt the system to your desires, get the system to do your work

Once you reach a local maximum on your team, you stopped learning

  • then get bored
  • then became obsolete
  • humility = willing to learn

Top down engineer = get full picture of every call before proceeding to tackle the bug

Bottom up engineer = dive then dig the way out

Vulnerable to influence

  • in order to be heard properly, you first need to listen to others
  • do not live in defence. Team mates are collaborators, not competitors

Chapter 2: Building an Awesome Team Culture

Story of a sourdough: starter yeast, strong enough to overtake any other wild strains of yeast or bacteria

Team culture: set of shard experiences, values, goals

  • continue to change and develop
  • elements of a culture: design doc, TDD, code review
  • root culture by founders and earliest employees
    • team leader does not curate the culture of the team
    • when someone joins the team, she pick up culture from everyone she works with

Good company: allow engineers safely share ideas and have a voice in the decision making process

  • top down management: alpha engineer is the team lead and lesser engineers are hired as team members
    • subservient team members are cheaper and easier to push around
    • but will be hard to hire great engineers
    • “if she can drive the bus, she will not want to ride the bus”
  • consensus driven management, entire team participate in the decision making process
  • crappy leaders also too insecure to deal with great engineers, and also tend to boss people around
  • introvert people rarely excel in an aggressive environment
    • discourage them from being active participants


  • as few people as necessary in a synchronous communication
  • boarder audience for asynchronous communication
  • if you don’t expend any effort on good communication, you’ll waste considerable effort doing work that’s either unnecessary or already being done by other members of your team

Mission statement in engineering team

  • clarifying what the team should and shouldn’t be working on
  • not: marketing-speak
  • should include: direction and scope limiter
    • discussion to come to an agreement on product direction
  • if radical changes happen, team members need to be honest and reevaluate whether the mission still make sense

Efficient meetings: like sewage treatment plants, few, far between, and downwind

  • standing meeting: every week, absolutely basic announcements
    • anything worth deeper discussion should take place after the meeting
    • people should be happy to leave the meeting once the main part of it is done
  • meeting with 5+ people, one arbiter to make decisions
  • meetings = interruption to “make time”
    • “maker’s schedule” vs “manager’s schedule” (Paul Graham)
    • makers need 20-30 hours of “make time” set aside in larger blocks

Five rule for meeting

  1. only invite people who absolutely need to be there
  2. have an agenda and distribute it well before the meeting
    • people start reading email in a meeting = people should not be in the meeting
  3. end the meeting early if goals accomplished
  4. keep meeting on track
  5. schedule the meeting near other interrupt points in the day (e.g. lunch, end of day)

Design docs

  • owned by one, authored by 2-3, reviewed by a larger set
  • high level blueprint of project
  • low cost way to communicate on what you want to do and how you intend to do it
  • at design doc, easier to accept criticism
    • because not yet invested weeks writing code
    • update doc when coding started, as project grows and changes
  • control time: doc should not dominate project time

Communication tools

  • mailing list: history of your project, easy to refer for newcomers
  • online chat: quick request to a teammate without interrupting her work
    • old time: IRC channel group chat
  • issue tracker: processing and triaging bugs
    • just a specialized bulletin board
  • code comments: most useful at function or method level

Chapter 3: Every Boat Needs a Captain

Someone needs to get into the driver’s seat

  • driver = motivated, impatient
  • help team resolve conflicts, make decisions, coordinate people

Why management

  • Peter principle (so don’t force people into management)
  • to scale yourself


  • “carrot and stick” method of management
    • ineffective and harmful to engineers’ productivity
    • only for assembly line worker of years past, because those workers could be trained in days
  • engineer needs nurturing, time, and space to think and create
  • traditional managers worry about how to get things done, leaders worry about what things get done
  • Google tech lead manager: responsible for tech direction for all of a product in addition to the careers and happiness of the engineers on the team

Quantifying management work is difficult. Making the team happy and productive is a measure.

Resist the urge to manage

  • otherwise: micromanagement, ignoring low performers, hiring pushovers
  • servant leadership: smooth the way, advise when necessary
    • manage both the technical and social health of the team


  • hiring pushovers: ppl not as smart or ambitious as you
    • they feel more insecure than you
    • without them, you have opportunities to investigate new possibilities
  • ignore low performers: hardest part of dealing with humans is handling someone who isn’t meeting expectations
    • hope is not a strategy
    • hurts team morale, and did not help the low performers grow
    • sometimes they merely need some encouragement or direction
      • temporary micromanagement can help
      • a lot of HRT, specific goal, small and incremental goals
  • ignore human issues: manager need to balance focus on both technical and human side
    • without empathy to ppl, manager lost respect from ppl
  • be everyone’s friend: Be a tough leader without tossing existing friendship
    • socially connected with lunch
    • informal conversations
  • compromise hiring bar: cost in hiring = save in team productivity
    • Steve Jobs “A people hire other A people. B people hire C people”
    • without raw material for a great team, you are doomed
  • treat them like your children: give them opportunity to be responsible for their job
    • do not micromanage or disrespectful of their abilities
    • trust people
    • Google tech shop: stealing is possible, but the cost of a workforce like children is more than a few pens or USB drives

Leadership patterns

  • lose the ego
    • humility is not lacking confidence
    • trust your team, respect their abilities, even if they’re new to the team
    • leaders drive, people decide the nuts and blots
    • promote greater sense of ownership
    • encourage inquiry, focus on the big picture you want to accomplish
  • be a Zen master
    • Less vocally skeptical while still letting your team know you’re aware of the intricacies and obstacles involved in your work
    • maintain calm, no matter what blew up, what crazy things happened
    • ask questions
  • be a catalyst
    • lead without official authority: working to build team consensus
    • jump in to clear roadblocks that they cannot get past but easy for you to handle
      • e.g., because you know the right person to contact
    • let your team know it is ok to fail
    • praise an individual in front of the team, constructive criticism in private
  • be a teacher and a mentor
    • give team member a chance to learn
    • three things needed:
      • experience the process and systems;
      • explain to the team;
      • ability to gauge how much help your mentee needs
  • set clear goals
    • create a concise mission statement
    • then set back and let the team work autonomously
    • goal helps efficiency by not wasting time
  • be honest
    • “I will tell you when I can’t tell you something or if I just don’t know”
    • do not use compliment sandwich, straight to the point with respect
      • clear feedback without candy coat
  • track happiness
    • ask “what do you need?”
    • evenly distribute thankless tasks
    • remember people have life outside work
      • unrealistic expectation about the amount of time they can work = burnt out
      • be sensitive to situations change outside work
  • delegate but keep your hands dirty
    • dirty hand earns respect
  • seek to replace yourself
    • give team the opportunity to take on more responsibility
    • identify who can lead and who willing to lead
  • be bold to make waves
    • problems will not work themselves out, don’t wait
    • delay the inevitable cause untold damages
  • shield your team from chaos
  • share information with the team
  • let the team know when they are doing well
  • always say yes if something is easy to undo
    • let people try and learn

People like plants, some need more light and some need more water. It is the manager to figure out which needs what and give it to them

The bigger their stake is in the success of the product, the greater their interest is in seeing it succeed

An engineer’s skills are like the blade of a knife: you may spend tens of thousands of dollars to find engineers with the sharpest skills, but if you use that knife for years without sharpening it, you will wind up with a useless dull knife

If you can help them see the purpose of their work, you will see a tremendous increase in their motivation and productivity

Chapter 4: Dealing with Poisonous People

Poisonous people: irritating

  • it is the behaviour to filter out
  • it is not people that is either good or bad

Founding team need strong culture, or other cultures will overgrow it

  • cultures are self selecting, nice people tend to be attracted to existing nice communities


  • team’s attention and focus
  • people do not deliberately being jerks, they have issues of ignorance, apathy, rather than malice
    • do not respect other people’s time: Do not read manuals and FAQs
    • incapable of accepting consensus decisions
      • will reopen discussions that have been long settled
    • overentitlement: keep complaining about a bug without contributing
    • perfectionists: perfect is the enemy of good


  • redirect the energy of perfectionists
  • do not feed the troll
  • remember your job is to write software, not to appease every visitor
    • choose your battles carefully
  • look for the facts, and focus only on the facts
  • look at the long term, react only if there are benefits
    • HRT culture is irreplaceable, technical contribution is replaceable

Chapter 5: The Art of Organizational Manipulation


  • proactive, responsibility seeking to reduce your manager’s workload
  • take risks and don’t fear failure
  • a good manager wants a team to push the envelope to see what they can and what they can’t do
  • you can never over-communicate, don’t hesitate to update your team’s leader on what you’re doing


  • bad managers will frequently train their teams to act like children by squashing any initiative, responsibility, or rule breaking
    • fear of failure
    • insecurity: make them very conservative, antithetical to the work style of engineer
    • take credit for your successes and blame you for your failures
  • office politician: spends more time looking impactful than actually being impactful
    • route around him where possible
    • don’t badmouth him to other people above him, because difficult to know who he has hoodwinked and who is wise to him
  • most companies are not engineering-focused
    • there are someone who is willing to sacrifice the health and sanity of the employees to meet the needs of the business
    • treat engineers like slaves
    • power struggles: people obsessed with titles and organizational hierarchy
    • lack focus, vision, direction

Manipulating your organization

  • it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission
    • have colleagues and friends in your company as a sounding board for your ideas
    • if risky, get second opinion from a trusted source before act
  • make a path: get enough people to buy into your idea
    • psychology: one will give more weight to the idea when it’s hitting him from multiple directions and not just from you
  • it’s impossible to simply stop a bad habit, you need to replace it with a good habit
  • manage upward: underpromise and overdeliver whenever possible

offensive work vs defensive work

  • manage tech debt: defensive
    • aimed at the long-term health of a product
  • new feature: offensive
    • user-visible, shiny things

Lucky people are skilled at creating and noticing chances

Powerful friends

  • connectors: people who know everyone
  • old-timers: carry a lot of institutional knowledge and wield a lot of influence just because they’ve been around for a long time
  • administrative assistants: agents of the executives

Effective Email

  • three bullets and a call to action; nothing more
  • keep low mental overhead

Plan B:

  • if you can’t change the system, there’s no point in continuing to put energy into changing it
  • “If I don’t get fired, I’ve done the right thing for everyone. If I do get fired, this is the wrong employer to work for in the first place”

Chapter 6: Users Are People, Too

Three phases of user engagement

  1. Get users to notice your software
  2. what people experience when they start using your software
  3. how to interact productively with them once they’re firmly engaged with your creation

Public Perception

  • marketer = antithesis of engineering culture
    • engineer don’t spin our descriptions of the world
    • we state facts and work to change them
    • the marketing guy = lies
  • the marketing folks are masters of emotional manipulation

People experience

  • first impression is important
    • first minute with a product is critical
  • underpromise and overdeliver
  • choose your audience
    • git is popular among alpha geeks for the same reasons UNIX-like OSes are
      • hard to learn but provides raw access to outrageous power
    • UNIX and git are counterexamples to the norm
  • success: measure usage by minutes, not users by head count
  • speed is a feature
  • some of the best software succeeds because it defines the problem narrowly and solves it well
  • hide complexity
    • an elegant design makes easy things easy and hard things possible
    • do not seal the software so tight that it ends up handcuffing all your users
  • Trust: people use your software because they want to, not because they’re trapped
    • users don’t want to participate in the analysis process, they just want to get something done
    • trust is emotional, because of the cumulative set of interactions they’ve had with you
  • As the number of users increases, their average level of technical ability decreases

Three points on user

  • marketing: Be aware of how people perceive your software
  • usability: easy to try, friendly, accessible
  • customer service: proactive engagement with long-term users

Bibliographic data

   title = "Team Geek: A Software Developer's Guide to Working Well with Others",
   author = "Brian W. Fitzpatrick and Ben Collins-Sussman",
   pages = "167",
   month = "July",
   year = "2012",
   publisher = "O'Reilly",
   isbn = "9781449302443",