Software Engineer to Engineering Manager: 10 Lessons Learned

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Software Engineer to Engineering Manager: 10 Lessons Learned

With new jobs come new responsibilities, and new realizations. Check out this new Engineering Manager's perspective on how things changed.

· Agile Zone ·
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Like every working professional, I had a career path laid out. After pursuing my Master's in Computer Science, I joined my first company as a Software Engineer, in 2011. Soon enough, my goals and career path started to take shape and in the interest of keeping the story short, I aspired to join the corporate leadership team.

Last year, these aspirations came to fruition when my SVP offered a promotion to join Axway’s R&D management team as an Engineer Manager and lead a 6-member team of highly motivated individuals. It was the opportunity of a life-time and I humbly accepted.

Now that I’m closing in on a 1-year milestone in this new role, I'm taking this opportunity to pen down the ten lessons I learned (and continue to learn) on this journey, in no particular order.

Rebuild Trust

This, here, is a very important lesson. As I got promoted to a manager in R&D, I was now managing employees who were once my peers, and those who were once my managers were now my peers. Acknowledging this and understanding how this impacts your working relationship is quite important as this helps you identify the changes you will have to make to your communication style. Eventually, this helped me rebuild my trust with everyone. 

Individual Contributor No More...Responsibilities Change

It might seem this phrase has a negative connotation, but it doesn’t. That being said, this was a bitter pill to swallow. To be a manager is to be responsible for your team’s laurels as well as mishaps. Even though you contribute to the company's goals and objectives, ultimately your success comes from the team’s success, and effectively managing and supervising the team to be successful is delicate, yet rewarding.

A Good Leader Leads, a Great Leader Empowers

There is a big difference between leading and empowering. Empowering someone essentially means trusting them fully and delegate authority, providing the right forums to make their own decisions. Research suggests that empowering employees breeds confidence and has positive effects on job performance, satisfaction, and commitment to the organization. And if you have highly-motivated individuals in the team, the sense of empowerment is a real blessing to them.

Embody the C.A.L.M.S

I remember reading this blog series Keep C.A.L.M.S and DevOps that explains the CALMS (Culture, Automation, Lean, Metrics, Sharing) principles, which really stuck with me. Here’s a picture outlining them.

C.A.L.M.S. acronym. C: culture- own the change to drive collaboration and communication. A: Automation. Take manual steps out of your value chain. L: Lean. Use lean principles to enable higher cycle frequency. M: Metrics. Measure everything and use data to refine cycles. S: Sharing. Share experiences, successful or not, to enable others to learn.

Although the blog’s context ties the principles to DevOps, I strongly believe these are also directly applicable to management.

Have 1:1s Regularly

I strongly believe in face-to-face communication. This became especially important after I became a manager, as having regular sync-up meetings, casual or not, helped me in rebuilding the trust and ease me into this role significantly. This will also give an opportunity to chat with your team often and help maintain a healthy relationship with them. It will also help build a rapport with new employees, especially during their initiation phase.

Expand Your Product Knowledge

When I was a software developer and got the opportunity to learn something new, I usually picked a technology or topic to take the depth-first approach to learn about it. Maybe this was attributed to my personality or it was the nature of the job, but I seldom took the breadth-first approach to really explore company-wide product knowledge. As a manager, it is crucial to gain this knowledge as your communication forum changes. And the surprising element to this was, once you go looking for the information, you’ll eventually find a whole gamut of it.

Familiarize Yourself with Project Management Concepts and Tools

As my career trajectory has now changed and if I intended to stay in management, which I do, I realized it’s important for me to gain some knowledge with project management concepts, tools and add them to my tool shed. One of the first things my boss told me regarding the key things about management is to get a good grip on managing the 3 Ps: People, Product and Process. And what is a project if not a healthy mix of these three?

Set Your Expectations and Goals

One of the first things I struggled with, was understanding what my expectations and goals are from this role. To measure my success and efficiency, I had to set a few personal goals for eg. reading management books, relevant blogs. I also frequently asked myself “What do I want out of this role?”  or “What kind of a manager do I want to be?” to set realistic expectations and learn to be better at my job.

Nurture Your Relationships

This lesson mainly focuses on the relational aspect of management. As I mentioned in the first point, your working relationships have now changed with almost everyone you work with.  Clear communication and learning how to give and receive feedback is pivotal. The book Radical Candor had a few tips that helped me here significantly. Once you rebuild trust and build new relationships, it is highly essential to continue investing in them and nurturing them to thrive in a company.

Enjoy It!

I wanted to end this blog with an obvious lesson, yet we feel the need to constantly remind ourselves of it. No matter what job we are in, it is important to enjoy what you do. And moving to a manager role was more exciting than ever, as it is my first step into the executive leadership realm. I am eager to learn all this role entails and keep growing every day.

adopting agile, dev career, dev life, software management

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