From Engineer To Manager: Lessons Learned Along The Way
To say the last few years have been a whirlwind would be a bit of an understatement.
In March 2022, I was back on my job market as a result of a layoff. While this isn’t necessarily a unique story in today’s time, the following year would be a critical time in my career. I stepped out of the engineering world into a product manager role, and by the end of my short tenure with that company I realized just how non-linear a career could really be.
I’m settling into my new role – one as an engineering manager at the illustrious WebDevStudios – and I feel like I’ve found the groove I’ve been looking for. Making a transition from managing code to managing people is an interesting, defining step for most developers. As you move into management, there are certain skills that are required to effectively lead and grow your team members. Throughout my career, and my transition from individual contributor to people manager, I’ve picked up a few things that may be useful to those of you currently on that journey.
Building and maintaining strong relationships between team members is essential to the success of an engineering manager. By fostering a collaborative and supportive work environment, you can help your team members develop trust, improve communication, and work together more effectively towards common goals. Good relationships between team members can also help resolve conflicts, prevent misunderstandings, and boost morale, leading to increased productivity and job satisfaction.
Regularly scheduling one-on-one meetings with your team, establishing clear expectations, and recognizing your team’s successes are just a few ways to significantly enhance your relationship with, and between, your team members.
Leadership Skills Matter
A good engineering manager is a coach, cheerleader, and mentor to their teammates. It’s a manger’s job to inspire their team and to effectively delegate the work they need to do in order to make sure deadlines and requests are met in a timely manner. Effective leadership requires the ability to communicate a clear vision and set of goals, make tough decisions, and delegate responsibilities.
The ability to set a clear vision, lead by example, and to communicate effectively are “soft skills” that many people are shocked to find they need when they move into a position of management. It’s not enough to be able to write “good code”; a manager has to encourage, coach, and mentor their team to make sure all of the team members have what they need to perform at their best.
As a Mentor, You Need A Mentor
Pouring out into others is rewarding, but it can be hard to mentor others if you don’t have someone who can pour into you. Mentors offer valuable insights and perspective that come from different experiences, and can teach proven techniques that help you be a better manager.
Just as you take time to meet with and grow your team, find someone with whom you can meet with to grow your own talents and skills.
My Final Take
One of the hardest things I learned was how to make mistakes. Several jobs I’ve had, either as a manager or individual contributor, insisted on perfection in an unhealthy way. Learning to make mistakes, and to learn from them, has changed the way that I see the work that I do. The journey to becoming a great manager is one that will be marked with missteps and mistakes along the way. It’s up to you on how you take the lessons learned from those mistakes and apply them.
Being a manager means having the success of a team (or teams) of people in your hand. It can be a very daunting, but very rewarding career for someone who loves to see their teams succeed – and to know you played a part in that success. While my last few years have been a winding road, I’m very glad the destination was here, and I’m looking forward to what the next steps along the path provide.