Being a CTO (Chief Technology Officer) takes insight and vision, in technology and business alike. Part manager, part software engineer and part entrepreneur, the CTO can benefit from a wide range of sources to brush up both on the newest developments in tech and to shape the software philosophy of the company.
We know it might be challenging to find useful reading material, or a strong starting point for newly-appointed CTOs - which is why we’ve created this list of must-read books for CTOs. Let’s begin!
Table of contents
1. The Phoenix Project: A Novel about IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win by Gene Kim, George Spafford, Kevin Behr
Don’t let the novel format fool you; it’s an excellent resource to help you improve your IT organization. Our own Matthew Harris said he “couldn’t put it down”. Readers on Goodreads are enthusiastic as well:
Who doesn’t want to create an app or service that users get hooked on? This book might be your first step towards that goal. Comes strongly recommended by Ryan Hoover, founder of Product Hunt (here’s his Medium profile), and by Goodreads founder Otis Chandler himself, who calls the book: “extremely valuable (...) for anyone building products designed to engage people frequently.”
One of the many books on this list on the subject of entrepreneurship. Finding new ways to succeed in business as a whole is the work of both CTOs/CIOs as well as CEOs. (Don’t believe me? Here’s a great resource on what a CTO really does). Rework is a great first step with its advice on productivity, getting more exposure without breaking the bank, and its approach that “easy can be better”.
“Reading "Rework" can be a great motivator for starting work smarter (rather than harder), seeking long-term sustainable business (rather than achieving better financial results for the current quarter) and really serving customer needs (rather than trying to trick him into buying irrelevant product)” - Algirdas Raščius, Software Architect at KAYAK
This is a recent book by Joel Beasley, host of the Modern CTO podcast. Joel focuses on guiding the reader through the transition from developer to CTO, tackling areas such as strategy, rewriting systems, and dealing with the "Spaghetti Code MVP Epidemic".
“The book is a great place to start in shifting your mindset from being your typical developer to becoming a CTO. This is a great inspiration! Joel is straightforward and he provides realistic advice.” - Timothy McGovern
“This is the first “business/tech” book I’ve read. I ended up pre-ordering it since I always listen to Joel’s (Modern CTO) podcast. If you think his podcast is fun and engaging, you won’t be disappointed in his book! He comes across the same way – as if you were a guest on his show.” - Lauren M.
5. Continuous Delivery: Reliable Software Releases Through Build, Test, and Deployment Automation by Jez Humble
This essential book for CTOs sets out the principles and technical practices that enable rapid, incremental delivery of high quality, valuable new functionality to users through automation of the build, deployment, and testing process, and improved collaboration between developers, testers, and operations.
“Eye opening. Everybody in IT should read this book, be he programmer, tester or operations specialist.” - Holger Matthies, Global Google Programme - New Services Lifecycle Manager
Code is a deep dive into not only computer code, but also systems such as Braille and Morse, helping CTOs gain a real context for understanding today’s world of PCs, digital media, and the Internet.
Ben Horowitz offers entrepreneurship advice for CTOs straight from Silicon Valley, covering challenges such as demoting (or firing) a loyal friend, dealing with smart people who are bad employees and managing your own psychology while the company depends on you.
A classic that combines both software engineering facts and thought-provoking opinions. Useful both from a technology and a management standpoint. It might seem dated to some, but the software development mistakes described inside have yet to be eradicated by adept CTOs and software engineers around the world.
“Some parts are clearly outdated, but it contains a lot of wisdom and I think it's still well worth reading. Even the more dated sections are at times both fun to read and interesting to compare to today's situation” - Hampus Wessman, Software Developer at Google
“In this classic book on the software development process, Fred Brooks demolishes several persistent myths. They never quite go away: every new generation just has to learn them over again.” - Manny Rayner, Researcher/Consultant, Spoken Dialogue Systems
The Lean Startup is ubiquitous on numerous lists of books for software entrepreneurs, and CTOs can surely benefit from its scientific approach to creating and managing successful startups (and products) in an age when companies need to innovate more than ever.
“I loved the ethos that Eric shares… When a new employee makes a mistake: "Shame on us for making it easy for you to fail."” - Chris Johnson (http://simplifilm.com/) (second review of his we’re quoting - thanks Chris!)
“Takeaways: (...) Be lean. Learn from Toyota's manufacturing and respond quickly to customer feedback to provide monthly, weekly, or even daily iterations of your product.” - Andy Stager, Church Planter and Pastor at Hill CIty Church (https://www.thecordialchurchman.com/)
This is one of the books a CTO can recommend to their developers to improve their skills, and gain additional insight by reading it alongside the devs.
“The information contained in this book is essential for software developers who want to develop their skills and knowledge into a craft worthy of renown, to become masters of the field.” - Tamara Temple (https://about.me/tamouse)
“The beautiful thing about a book like The Pragmatic Programmer is that it sparks ideas when you read it. Can you do something more efficiently? Can you do it more elegantly? Can you make the computer do the work instead?” - David Gauer (http://ratfactor.com/)
“Peopleware is something of a classic in the world of Development management and it makes sense why. The book is straightforward, short, practical and influential. “ - Ben Haley (http://benjaminhaley.blogspot.com/)
“An absolute must read for anyone who works with engineers. The premise of the book is something I want to nail to my wall, in size 200 font: We spend most of our time managing technical aspects of projects, when most issues that lead to project failure are human, not technical.” - Chris
Founders at Work: Stories of Startups' Early Days is a collection of interviews with founders of famous technology companies about what happened in the very earliest days. Very often a tech startup is born from the cooperation of just two people: the CEO and the co-founder CTO (see this Quora discussion, for example). Thus, CTOs of all levels can learn something from reading this one.
“Loved every second of this book. Each chapter is a different story of a startup founder. I read it slowly so it wouldn't end, and read many chapters twice.” - Otis Chandler, Goodreads founder
The Innovator’s Dilemma is one of the most talked-about books of the century. No saavy entrepreneur or CTO should be without it. It focuses on disruptive technology and answers thought-provoking questions such as “When is it right not to listen to customers?” or “When to invest in developing lower-performance products that promise lower margins?”
“This is one of the best books on innovation in the last 20 years. I read it in 2000 and still refer to it.” - Nico Macdonald, Chief Executive at The Research & Development Society (http://www.spy.co.uk/)
“This is one of those books that becomes an instant classic. Everyone talks about it until you think you know most of what it has to say without reading it shortly after it comes out.” - Jeff Yoak, Founder/Manager at Small Wizards
Controversial, but still valuable.
“Particularly in the 'business' category, Zero to One is a special and thought-provoking book. Highly recommended.” - Andrew Garvin
Are there any more books that you could see being useful for CTOs that belong on this list? Make sure to drop us a comment; we update the list regularly. Happy reading!