Book Review: The Effective Engineer

My rating: 3.5 / 5

How do the best engineers deliver more value while working the same number of hours? That is the question that this book promises to answer.

View this book on Amazon or Goodreads

One of my goals this year is to increase the leverage of my work, which is why this book caught my eye.

Leverage is the impact or value achieved per unit time. Hence, there are three ways of delivering greater value:

  1. Reduce the time taken for an activity
  2. Increase the value from an activity
  3. Switch to a higher leverage activity

The book provides examples of how to do this. For instance, some of the highest leverage activities that engineers can do are automating mechanical processes, investing in onboarding, shortening the feedback loop and validating hypotheses cheaply with MVPs or metrics.

The biggest takeaway for me was using leverage to think about whether something is worth doing, as a way of generating ideas to help the team and using leverage to help prioritize work items. The Pareto principle applies as well - 20% of what we do delivers 80% of the value.

However, most of the content would not be unfamiliar to anyone with a few years of working experience, but having it laid out in an easily digestible way is still valuable. I would recommend this book especially for fresh graduates.

My main criticism of the book is that it is too short and lacks depth. Although many topics are covered, the coverage is shallow. For example, it talks about the importance of postmortems without going into detail about how to run one well. Similarly, it promotes deploying more often to production without providing concrete suggestions on how to do so. Hence, I would use this book primarily as a starting point for ideas and do my own additional research.