These are the books I have read and recommend, in no particular order. Titles in bold are the ones I enjoyed the most.
I think of life as a search problem. Yet in a lifetime, I could only traverse so many paths and possibilities. I find reading a powerful and rewarding passion that allows me to learn what others have explored.
With millions of books to choose from, we are faced with another search problem. Like living, reading is highly personal. Alas, I hope this list is useful if you share my interests below.
- Engineering Management
- Personal Development
- Career Growth
- Startups and Ventures
- Finance and Markets
The Making of a Manager: What to Do When Everyone Looks to You
A good manager improves collective outcome with multiplier effects. Focus on purpose, people, and process. Prepare for meetings. Feedback is a gift. Manage expectations. Trust, delegate, grow.
* Amp It Up: Leading for Hypergrowth by Raising Expectations, Increasing Urgency, and Elevating Intensity
Raise your standards, B players drive A players out. Hire people ahead of their own curve. Hire for aptitude over experience. Give people the career opportunity of a lifetime, a huge motivation. Coaching struggling teammates to a better place is possible but rare. Regardless of open headcounts, maintain a top-talent list and check in periodically because 1) if you wait until an opening, you can only tap the then-current suboptimal supply. 2) people currently occupying these roles might leave or could not grow as fast as the company. Staff ahead of need. Recruiting never stops. Trust is earned by delivering your promises. Always underpromise and overdeliver. Publicly admit regrettable decisions, which encourages everyone to do so. Apply focus and urgency. Time kills all deals. Time introduces risks, such as new entrants. The faster we separate from the competition, the more likely we are to succeed. “Priority” is a singular word. The moment you have many, you actually have none. Great execution is rarer than great strategy. Growth trumps everything else as a driver and predictor of long-term success. Once a start-up begins showing profits, investors conclude that either it doesn't know how to invest in further growth or that it has run out of growth opportunities.
The Manager's Path: A Guide for Tech Leaders Navigating Growth and Change
Be kind, not nice. Practice continuous feedback. Delegate. Listen. Empathize. Build personal connections. Praise in public; criticize in private. What you measure, you improve. Set expectations. Process is risk management. Be curious, ask questions, learn. Better to talk about learning instead of structure, transparency instead of process. Culture is how the things get done, without people having to think about it.
Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best and Learn from the Worst
People quit bad managers, not companies. Direct reports watch everything you do ("toxic tandem"). Watch your tone of voice, the way you look at people, the use of nicknames, a memory for faces, names and dates. These details refine your relationships. Effective leaders are both competent and benevolent. Humans prefer hierarchical relationships. The challenge is not to reinvent management but dampen known drawbacks.
* The Almanack of Naval Ravikant: A Guide to Wealth and Happiness
Renting out your time or just working hard will not lead to financial freedom. 99% of effort is wasted. Wealth comes from judgment. Play long-term games with long-term people. Find a worthy mate; be worthy of a worthy mate. Find work that feels like play. All returns in life—wealth, relationships, knowledge—come from compound interest. Reading is faster than listening; doing is faster than watching. If you cannot decide, the answer is no.
* Connect: Building Exceptional Relationships with Family, Friends, and Colleagues
Self-disclosure strengthens relationships, despite risk of being misunderstood. Stretch your relationship comfort zone 15% at a time. To communicate well we must express facts/cognitions and feelings/emotions. Emotions assign meaning, intensity, and importance to facts. Showing your vulnerability often brings people closer. Stick to your reality. Make no assumption about others. It is a profound difference between “I feel irritated and dismissed” and “I feel that you don’t care.”
* Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most
Inquire instead of assuming intentions. Elaborate my emotions, and listen to theirs. Intentions, emotions, and identities are complex. I cannot control but prepare for others' reaction. Explore joint contributions to the dispute. Start with mines to avoid their defensiveness, but include theirs. People want to be heard. Listen actively by paraphrasing, eye contact, notes taking, and deep questions.
Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones
Habits are compounding and shape who we are and what we will achieve. The best way to build a habit is to make it part of your identity (I am trying to quit smoking vs. I am not a smoker), attach the new habit to existing ones, make it small (atomic), and surround yourself with people who have the habits you want. Willpower is limited; instead, design the environment to support your habits.
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
In decision making, human often resort to shortcut/reflex, such as reciprocation, consistency between commitment and action, conforming with those similar to us, adherence to authority, preference to folks we like, and equating scarcity with value. Awareness of such routines keeps oneself alerted to exploiters and magnifies your influence in work and life.
What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20: A Crash Course on Making Your Place in the World
Grant yourself permission instead of waiting for others to do so. Cold email the people you admire. If you are not failing sometimes, you are not taking enough risks. Do not burn bridges. You are not going to like everyone and not everyone is going to like you, but there is no need for enemies. To make good decision in dilemmas, think about how you want to tell the story in a future job interview. Recognize your mistake, apologize early and profusely.
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life
There’s no such thing as not giving a fuck. You must give a fuck about something. Rude gas station attendants and boring day-time TV shows do not deserve your limited attention. Prioritize your life based on personal values. You learn what matters to you through emotions and psychological pain. Happiness is about doing, not being. Nothing is once-and-for-all. Life is full of problems. True happiness occurs only when you find the problems you enjoy having and enjoy solving.
So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love
"Follow you passion" is a bad advice. A rare and valuable job requires rare and valuable skills (career capital). Acquiring more career capital with deliberate practice gives you the autonomy to pursuit the work you love. Deliberate practice means doing things that hurt: playing guitar pieces above your skill level, or practicing the tennis backhand that you suck at.
Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In
Negotiation is everywhere in life. The fixed pie mentality is not appropriate, because you will see the same people again. No need to grab all the value. Never lie because people always find out. Don’t give the numbers too early because you did not know everything at first. Practice is the only way to improve. Emphasize fairness and win-win. It is way easier to negotiate what is the right criteria and standard than to directly negotiate the price.
Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It
Mirroring upwards invites elaboration. Mirroring downwards (late-night FM DJ voice) builds empathy, trust, and calmness. Humans are emotional, sometimes irrational. Label the counterpart's emotion and motivation to get them to say "that's right". "No" is not the end of negotiation. Explore alternatives.
Never Eat Alone, And Other Secrets To Success, One Relationship At A Time
Give before you take. You gain trust by helping others. Trust solidifies relationships. Relationships build institutions. Build the relationships long before you need them. Be audacious. Respect the gatekeeper (e.g. assistants) who will make or break your access to the decision makers. Follow up frequently. Forward relevant articles to your network. Go to conferences to meet people, not to learn new knowledge. You engender life-bonding loyalty when you help others with their health, wealth, and children. Build an online presence with personal, generous, and candid messages.
The Holloway Guide to Equity Compensation
Detailed explanations of ISO, NSO, RSU, and taxes with lots of references. 83(b) election. Secondary markets. Right of first refusal. AMT trap. Liquidation overhang.
The Coding Career Handbook. Guides, Principles, Strategies, and Tactics
Learn in the public. Write a lot. Open source your knowledge. Good enough is better than best. Invest in new technologies. Know your tools.
Startups and Ventures
* High Growth Handbook: Scaling Startups From 10 to 10,000 People
Great startups prioritize distribution over product. Product itself is not defensive because of too many great engineers and second-mover advantages. Raise prices to test PMF, fund distribution and R&D, and grow faster. Delegate. Audit your calendar regularly. Say no more often. Passing 50 hires, hold weekly staff meetings and start layering in HR. Empower smart people. Communicate context, not exert control. One of the cofounders should be dominant. Board members should be people who you wish to hire but are out of reach otherwise. Take a lower valuation if necessary to get the right board. Talk to board members individually for open-ended brainstorming. Key determinant of candidate conversion is how quickly you interview + make an offer. Reference check everyone: "If this person joined my company, would you join?" Spend 30–50% of their time early on (scaling from 3 to 15 people) on recruiting.
Secrets of Sand Hill Road: Venture Capital and How to Get It
VC returns follow power-law distribution, so VC needs nontrivial allocations in home-run winners operating in huge markets. Connect with VC through relationships. Cold emails hardly work. For series-A term sheets, push for having the capital “P” Preferred vote on voluntary conversion. Avoid board observers, because they might chime in discussions and their presence crowds the room and discourages straight talks. Preferred and common investors are not always aligned, particularly with acquisitions + liquidation preferences. The Board has fiduciary duty only the common shareholders.
Straight Talk for Startups: 100 Insider Rules for Beating the Odds
Aim for an order-of-magnitude improvement. Hire part-time experts rather than full-time trainees. Track unit economics and working capital. Conduct early, low-cost tests of your ideas. In this order: Idea, Technology, Product, Market, Economics, Scale. Keep your top performer happy and committed. Surprise them with bonuses, options refresh, larger scope or work. Reference check VC: talk to portfolio companies, former associates and partners. Deal directly with the decision makers at the VC. Dilution is relative; Out of cash is terminal. Always be thinking about the next round. Terms from prior rounds are hard to eliminate. Prioritize vanilla terms (no excessive liquidation preferences or ratchet), indicator of an aligned investor. Allow 6+ months for fundraising. Create urgency and scarcity. Don’t share who else you are talking to.
Simple Rules: How to Thrive in a Complex World
Strategy and execution are both critical. Simple rules can bridge the gap between strategy and execution. Simple rules allow people to act without deliberating every decision. E.g. how frontline medics decide who gets medical care. Simple rules drive alignment across organizations and produce better decisions than more complicated models can, particularly when time and information are limited. 4-6 is the optimal number of rules. Three types of rules: 1) Boundary rules—whether to pursue or reject an opportunity, 2) Priority rules—rank options given limited resources, 3) Stopping rules—when to reverse or exit.
Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future
Competition is for losers. 0 to 1 is different from 1 to n. Every moment in business happens only once. It is easier to copy than to create. Leanness is a methodology, not a goal. Making small changes to things that already exist might lead you to a local maximum, but it won’t help you find the global maximum.
Blitzscaling: The Lightning-Fast Path to Building Massively Valuable Companies
Do the things that don't scale. Prioritize growth and speed over efficiency. Good insights, but could be condensed into just one chapter.
Finance and Markets
* Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets
We often confuse luck with skills, and noise with signals. Investment returns are unpredictable. Stay in the game. Manage risk to never get wiped out. View the past and the future with probability/uncertainty, but understand the difference between probability and expectation.
The Psychology of Money: Timeless lessons on wealth, greed, and happiness
Aim to be reasonable, not rational. The highest form of wealth is the ability to do whatever wherever whenever. Note that financial independence is not exactly about maximizing returns. Few things matter more with money than understanding your own time horizon and not being persuaded by the actions and behaviors of people playing different games than you are.
Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt
Wall street in 2010s. High frequency trading is not market making. It creates twice the volume, no additional liquidity, and perhaps a slightly worse execution price for the public. I wonder if network switches and FPGA got so much faster because of it.
The Last Lecture
The last lecture delivered by Professor Randy Pausch after his pancreatic cancer diagnosis. Feel empowered to dream big and enable others' dreams. Try hard. Be kind.
When Breath Becomes Air
Memoir by a young neurosurgeon faced with terminal cancer. A bit about dying, but more about being alive.
Site Reliability Engineering: How Google Runs Production Systems
Hope is not a strategy. Build systems to automate ops. Have an error budget instead of aiming 100% uptime. Monitor latency, traffic, errors, saturation. Push actionable alerts. Blameless postmortems.
Designing Data-Intensive Applications: The Big Ideas Behind Reliable, Scalable, and Maintainable Systems
Books I Could Not Recommend
The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich
Reading it felt like I just replied to a "get rich quick" email spam. I appreciate the emphasis on time management and delegation, but unfortunately Mr. Ferris sees his employment no more than doing what was assigned, or merely an exchange for money with time. I have to look elsewhere for aspiration, leadership, empowerment, relationships, and growth.