My First Thoughts as an Engineering Manager
An author shares his first experience working as an engineering manager. Could it be the next career for you? Find out more below.
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Recently, I've joined Nextail Labs as an Engineering Manager. This is my first experience working in a Software Startup and also as an Engineering Manager. I've been leading Engineers Teams most of my professional career with other roles including the following:
- Tech Lead in a small software consultant company.
- Solution Architect and Team Lead of consultant team of an important software vendor.
- Team Lead and Product Owner in an important fashion retailer company.
None of these roles were focused on the people, there were always other main goals. Today, I know how different they are and how different the challenge is.
What Is an Engineering Manager?
There are many definitions of the Engineering Manager role, but it depends so much on the company. The last year, I've been in several hiring processes, and the same role was described differently between companies. At the same time, if we ask other engineers about this role the answer probably will be different between them and will depend on their experiences.
In my opinion, the main responsibility of an Engineering Manager has to be the people and the team but not the project, the product, or the architecture.
- If we are mainly focused on the technical area, we are probably Principal/Staff Engineer, Tech Lead, Architect, or Technical Director.
- If we are mainly focused on the delivery process, we are probably Delivery Managers.
- If we are mainly focused on the product, we are probably Product Managers or Product Owners.
- Another option is people focused on leading all the areas and, in this case, they are probably heroes! I like teams without heroes.
The title is not really important but what we are doing and what are our goals in our day-to-day. The titles are more important at the beginning because generate expectations for us and for the rest of the organization, mainly when we start in a new company or in a new role.
People and Team
While my professional career, I've believed that "great software is built by great teams." I've always tried to care for the people and the team, not only to achieve the goals but also to help them to evolve their professional careers and make their day-to-day life easier.
I'm lucky because I've had great managers and also bad managers that allowed me to learn how actions impact people and teams. Today, I can understand that most of my managers were not focused on the people or the teams because they did not have time to support my needs as an engineer or the team. We can not support the team and the people, if we can not talk with them a least every week, two weeks, or even monthly.
Supports teams and people require a lot of time. It is not only how many "one to one" meetings we have and the time duration of them, we need to prepare previously the meeting by reviewing the previous one, the action plan, or reports.
For example, if some engineer would like to increase his/her data architecture knowledge and we recommend him/her to read a specific book, we should have time to talk with him/her about what he/she is learning and how this is helping him/her to evolve or not. Sometimes I like to read the same book and discuss with him/her some of the chapters because discussing with other people help to improve understanding. This is only an example, what matters is having the time to provide quality support.
Engineering Manager Scope
An Engineering Manager is not only focused on the people, but we also have other secondary responsibilities. The scope of these responsibilities will depend on many factors such as company size, company organization, the knowledge of the people and the engineering manager, or the maturity of the teams.
As Engineering Managers, we have to be flexible and adapt to the characteristics of each team and people. The following are some examples depending on the team.
Senior and High-Performance Teams
If we become an Engineering Manager of a senior team composed of people with a lot of experience that achieves all the goals and work very well together, our role as Engineering Manager will be to provide all the support that they need and try to learn from them.
Most importantly, try to not disturb them.
Teams With Senior and Junior Members
It is the most common case and we have to help them:
- Facilitate the integration of the new members to the team and the company culture.
- Provides another view on architectural solutions to complex uses cases.
New teams with some junior members require more support from the Engineering Manager:
- If the Engineer Manager has a lot of technical knowledge, the Engineer Manager will provide a technical advisor.
- If the Software Engineers have technical knowledge but they do not follow any methodology and processes standardization, the Engineer Manager will support them to improve it by providing a process advisor.
Teams That Do Not Achieve Their Objectives
We need to analyze which are the causes in collaboration with the team and design a proposal to improve it.
What Is a Good Engineering Manager?
Managers are one of the principal reasons why engineers leave the company or the team. For me, and simplifying, good engineering managers are those who retain their team and that everyone else would like to work with.
What Is the Most Complicated?
In my experience, Engineering Manager is one of the global contributor roles with most gray areas and where self-actualization is more complex to achieve. This sometimes causes that we make some mistakes:
- When the team has many tasks, try to get tasks instead of analyzing why this is happening.
- Make a lot of decisions that avoid people from growing.
- To want the team to work as we would like it to instead of supporting them to improve weak areas.
- Not understanding we achieve the objective when we become irrelevant for the team and people to achieve their goals.
In my case, and because of my technical background, the most difficult are the following:
- Avoid take technical decisions or being involved too much in these decisions.
- Figure out how to be involved in the team day-to-day without impact negatively on them. A common scenario is the role of Engineering Manager in teams that follow scrum methodology.
Maybe, someone is thinking that I'm not talking about conflict resolution, goals, or how to be a leader. They are topics for the next article.
Why Has Engineering Manager Become My Next Step?
As a technologist, I am very lucky because I love my professional career independently of the role and I live in a special moment for the technology sector. There are so many opportunities and challenges so I can choose what want to do for the next years.
I always like to help other people, continue learning and new challenges. I was looking to have time enough to support the team and people, help them to grow, and a company that values that.
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