Companies often tend to promote their skilled and perceptive developers to the position of an engineering manager. If you are at the junction in your career where you are being offered the role of an engineering manager, you must make sure if that’s what you really want.
Though, now a common role in most organisations, the scope of the profile of an engineering manager varies from company to company. Organisations are still exploring the nuances of this role making the role dynamic.
The role has both managerial and technical bits in it and you must understand what it entails before you sign up for it.
Who is an Engineering Manager?
In layman terms, the primary role of an engineering manager is to ensure timely completion of a project. Well, that’s true for any managerial role, isn’t it? However, as an engineering manager, you’re expected to be on top of any or all technical glitches that may arise during the development process. You also have to ensure that your team is working towards solving them. So, if you believe that the position of an engineering manager will keep you away from the code, you ’re mistaken.
Here are a few key responsibilities that will come with the job:
- Aligning the team’s goals and vision with the company’s.
- Priority-based delegation of tasks.
- Regular evaluation and mentorship of individual team members to ensure professional and personal growth.
- Improving team efficiency, and quality of deliverables through routine code reviews and workflow management.
- Implementing the best architectural design and development practices.
- Outlining technical specifications and software design requirements for every project.
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While coding might not be your major responsibility, you will have to read your team’s code, identify errors, and sometimes even work on rectifying it yourself.. That being said, you will be donning the managerial hat way more than the technical one on an everyday basis.
However, in startups and other small businesses—where everyone gets their hands dirty— you can look forward to getting the best of both worlds.
So, your career path is likely to change once you take on the role of the Engineering Manager. For example, as a Software Engineer, you are usually promoted to the Senior Software Engineer position, before moving onto a Staff Engineer, an Architect and finally, a leadership position that’s akin to being the CTO. This trajectory changes when you get promoted to an engineering manager. So, what happens next? You’d likely become the Director of Engineering, VP of Engineering and SVP of Engineering.
If you’re wondering which road to take, then the answer is simple: There is no better choice here, just the one that’s right for you. To clear your doubts further, we’ve compiled a list of the ups and downs you’d face as an Engineering Manager.
Why it could be a good choice?
Your impact is greater
As an engineering manager, you not only influence the growth of each individual member of your team, but also the company’s culture.
For individuals, you can offer guidance through regular check-ins, and by sharing resources that will help them stay updated with the latest technologies. Since you work with them on the daily, you are in a better position to understand their strengths + weaknesses, and keep them in mind while delegating work accordingly to increase overall team productivity—after all, people are able to do good work when they are assigned tasks that bring out their professional best of them. You are their coach and you decide who gets to bat first or who gets to bowl the final over. At the same time, you make sure they improve as a sportsman—in this case, a developer, every day.
Your team members may work in harmony or independent of each other, depending on how you establish and reinforce a culture that you feel works the best for everybody. Through your team, you get to set an example for other managers, thereby, impacting their managerial tactics and creating a ripple effect in improving your company’s overall culture.
You develop people and leadership skills
This is where your professional growth happens. While you may be technically sound, managing people is a new ball-game altogether. It requires people skills, so you must be good at communicating your requirements and conveying feedback in a language that your team understands. Considering that every team member has their own way of communicating, this can prove to be challenging because you must be ready to adapt yourself to the person you’re talking to. Now, these are skills your Engineering college wouldn’t teach you.
You will familiarise yourself with different feedback tactics like the sandwich feedback, where you fit in constructive criticism within positive feedback or compliments like a sandwich to ensure that it is not harsh on the person receiving it.
Overall, the role will groom you to be a leader in the long-run.
You will also have to act as the mediator a lot of times, where you’re authoritative yet understanding with your teammates. You must be their spokesperson for the upper management and at the same time, be the management’s face for your team.
We all know handling relationships is much more complicated than handling codes. And you will definitely learn to do manage the former better in this role.
You are directly involved in decision-making
As an engineering manager, you’re an integral part of decision making that directly affects the outcome of your team. If you’re the kind of person that likes to take charge and is critical of the way certain things get implemented, being an engineering manager would work well for you.
Having an eye for detail and being able to look at a problem statement with different perspectives is important as that’ll help you consistently deliver good results.
Why it may not be for you?
More People, Less Code
As an engineering manager, you become the key person between your team and the stakeholders. This naturally means that code reviews, standups and project management become your first priority, whereas actually getting to code would take a back seat. Your primary responsibility to ensure that the tasks assigned to your team are done well and delivered on time.
It’s not that you won’t get to code. It just would not be expected of you, very often. But you’re free to determine your management style – there are a lot of engineering managers who are very hands-on and take out time to push code regularly.
You’re Responsible For Your Team
Being an engineering manager puts a lot of responsibilities on your shoulder. Right from getting the work done on time to ensure that the work is of the expected quality, it all falls on you. You also become the direct mentor for your team members, filling in the gaps and helping them the training when they need it.
It takes a certain kind of personality to really thrive in an engineering manager’s position. While an individual contributor may take pride in being the best in the room, an engineering manager’s real pride is when their team members really shine.
A letter of recommendation makes a very strong point in your profile. Click here to learn about how you can ask for a LOR.
Tips to become a good engineering manager
Staying updated with the latest technologies is essential. Being an engineering manager can quickly put you out of touch with the latest in the world of technology. While your senior software developers and architects would be entrusted to come up with the technical solution, it’d be helpful if you can take an informed decision rather than blindly accepting. You don’t really need to know the inner workings on every new framework or library that comes out – but having a fair idea of the tradeoffs and overall functioning will help.
Keep in touch with the code
Engineering managers get engrossed in the managerial aspect of their role and over time their technical knowledge gets rusted. Being able to read code is one thing that you’d need to keep sharp especially if you’re working with a multi-language team. Your team members should be able to rely on your judgement.
Align yourself and team to the company’s vision
Companies have multiple teams and each team has its own goals to prioritise. For instance, as an engineering team, your team’s priority might be code quality and implementation speed. The design team would prioritise aesthetics. While the product team cares about feature delivery. Now, it becomes your role to coordinate with other teams, not jeopardise their priorities over yours.
And for that, you have to look at the bigger picture and align your team to the same. Prioritize based on company needs, not team goals. For instance, you can’t delay product indefinitely just to get the perfect code quality. Nor can you deliver a shoddy code, just so that it reaches the client on time. To ensure this, feedback and reviews work the best. Through these, you can applaud member actions which align with the company’s objectives and highlight areas of improvement for members which may have affected the company’s goals.
Be a leader, not a ruler
You should not be out their directing and blaming your subordinates. Even the words you use make a lot of difference in how your team treats you. For instance, if a developer is facing a problem in the code, address it as “our” problem over “your” problem. Not just that, your team came up with a solution to an issue, make sure you highlight the fact that “we came up with it” when sharing it with external parties. You have to be the manager that guides and motivates your team to do the work on time and do it impeccably. You don’t have to dictate them to do it.
As with any management role, being an engineering manager can be exciting and scary at the same time. Leading a team of talented developers can be unnerving but as with any skill, you can acquire leadership with deliberate practice. Once you are sure that it is the career choice for you, delve in, keep at it and you’ll do just fine!