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LeadingIn.Tech #2: What does an Engineering Manager do anyway?
Welcome to the second edition of the LeadingIn.Tech newsletter. On this edition I'll give a step back and share to you as part of the toolkit For Engineering Managers my current understanding of what do they generally do.
When learning about The role. The first thing that is important to know for people that are thinking about making the change or are landing into the position is that, it is a people management role within the Software Development or Software Engineering career family which forks into a different career path from the individual contributor path. This means that becoming an Engineering Manager is not promotion but a career change. As a result of it you will be executing different functions that will also require you to acquire a new set of skills to effectively lead individual people and teams.
So what does an Engineering Manager do?
To better describe it, I'll split the Engineering Managers work into 5 categories that in my experience cover most of the aspects of the day-to-day activities and each of them is represented as a section on the toolkit. Depending on the company you work with or the context of the team you will be managing the amount of time dedicated to each of these will vary. If you want to read more about it Patrick Kua has an interesting article about it where he describes 5 Engineering Manager Archetypes
The holy grail of management (IMHO.) Holding regular one-on-one meetings with every member of the team is the most important tool you have as a manager to connect with your team. In this conversations EM's give and receive feedback, provide coaching and most importantly work on building a transparent relationship where your team can voice their concerns and feel heard. These meetings also serve as a place to talk about career development and performance. And last but not least provide alignment and direction on the team or company mission.
As an Engineering Manager you play a significant role in the career progression your team members. As an EM you are responsible of setting your team for success but at the same time keep them out of their comfort zone so their work remains challenging enough and they continue learning and growing professionally. You are the principal sponsor of their promotions but also the one that manages underperformance when detected.
Engineering Managers need to be capable of attracting the right candidates to join their teams. They own the interview process for the open positions for the team. EM's are ideally also the ones that publicise the "goodness" of working in their team. As people are more eager to work with inspiring leaders, this is where you bring in people that believe in your team's mission and that will share the same values that your team holds.
This is the Project Management and Operations aspect of the role. As a manager you need to make sure that the team has in place the right processes that will allow the team to deliver value to the customers at the right time and with the highest standards. Setting in place Agile methodologies, building and tracking roadmap progress, detecting and managing risks, handling partner team dependencies and effective status communication with the stakeholders are some of the activities the EM needs to cover.
Let's not forget that Engineering Management is also a technical position. You are responsible of the technical direction of the team, this means setting in place good engineering practices in your team as owners of the software you produce. The technical aspects also include participating in code reviews or architectural decisions to guide the team into making the right tradeoffs. The dimensions that help you guide this decisions usually include: scalability, performance, maintainability, resilience, infrastructure costs or team capacity. Your focus is typically on automation and to guide the team into when to leverage in new technologies or work on technical debt. Depending on the company some might expect you to participate in coding activities but it is advisable to stay away from the critical path code so you don't become a bottleneck for the team.
This where as an Engineering Manager your focus will be in helping your team prioritise the work that brings the highest value to the customers. Roadmap planning and stakeholder communication is where most of the time is spent. But as a manager you will find yourself constantly asking "Why" to invest in a given project. Considering, customer value, long term strategy, market opportunity or the return of the investment. As a manager you will also help translate business and customer demands into bite sized projects. Using experimentation and measuring customer behaviour are one of the techniques to help you understand where the value is added.
I like to have this as a separate category as I feel that it is a relevant enough topic that is shaping the way teams operate today. Being prepared is instrumental for the success of any team that is at least partially adapting to work remotely. This can be achieved by making sure the team has the right processes and tools in place to collaborate in a remote format. And that these are well documented in a handbook that is easily accessible by everyone.
Another aspect is making sure that your team has the right setup in their home or remote office. Also as a manager you should make sure that your team has access to proper training on the tools and best practices to enable them to work remotely.
As a manager you will also need to ensure that there are in place the right activities that will help you build and preserve team culture and cohesion.
📄 Related articles
📄 Other articles added this month
If you are a developer who is transitioning or thinking about taking on this role. I would recommend reading it. This book covers the path starting from the first mentoring activities as a senior engineer in a team, going through becoming a Tech Lead then taking the leap into managing a single team, multiple teams or even managing managers and finally covering the CTO and VP Engineering roles.
The book is listed in the toolkit For Engineering Managers and I encourage you to not limit yourself to read it once and forget about it but to use it as a reference guide all over your career. Read it now or in 5 years and you will still be able to get value out of it wherever you stand in the career ladder.
Even thought it's still a work in progress the authors of the book Alvaro, Keyvan and Félix have released the book for purchase with the first three chapters "The role of the manager", "Feedback" and "Product oriented development" and more chapters to come soon. The authors describe the book as the one I wish I had read when I started my career.
James Stainer the author of the book is also the owner of the blog theengineeringmanager.com where he writes about the role with tons of articles that will help you learn about the role and progress in your career.
This podcast is in Spanish and here they share an interesting conversation on what is like to be an Engineering Manager. The authors of El Manual del Manager also give a few glimpses of what you can find in the book.