Becoming an Engineering Manager

In an interview with a senior engineering manager, he told me one of his experiences. He told me that he has forgotten the pleasure of working with extremely talented engineers. He has asked some of them to leap into the company management. 

engineering manager

When an engineer moves to become an engineering manager, it is same as that of an individual contributor moves into a new role. Fundamental thing which should be followed by those engineers is that they have to change the way by which they approach their days. The senior engineering manager has taught number of engineers to become an engineering manager with the help of his experience. He noted down some interesting ideas which are essential to translate the engineering skills into managerial skills. Some of these skills are very useful for managing engineers. I am providing the brief description of these skills which are applicable for any engineering manger while managing anything in a growing company.

Pragmatism

The main distinction between a junior engineer and senior engineer is understood from their ability to be pragmatic. A junior approaches a problem bravely and says that he knows the exact problem and starts solving the problem.  But, a senior manager approaches the problem with pragmatism. At that time he says that he doesn’t know the exact problem, but he knows where to look for understanding the problem. After that he starts to dig into the available data. 

The metaphor I would like to use in this case is that every challenge looks like a tree. The tree has trunk with different branches with all possibilities. A junior engineer starts his work from the top i.e. branch and tries to precede his work down the tree. But a senior engineer i.e. a virtual engineering manager starts his work from the trunk and cut off large portion of the tree by eliminating possibilities and reaches the exact problem.
The biggest role an engineering manger can play is a teacher and the most important thing he can teach is ‘pragmatism’. Pragmatism is how to approach a problem and solve it in the most efficient as well as logical way. No doubt every manger has different style of working, but the key to become a good engineering manager is to help junior engineers to perform better in their jobs.

Systems/Scale

Every engineer is a system thinker and he always thinks how to build a thing a scalable way. The main job of a manager is to build the system of people in a best manner. As the engineering manager is responsible for growing a company, he has to make the system in a scalable way. Micromanagement may be bad engineering for an engineering manager, but it is not bad behavior for the employees he is managing. 

An engineer manager has to understand the strength as well as weakness of the language he has chosen, also he has to understand the strength or weakness of the team he is managing. The last point we consider is scalability. When an engineering manager solves the problem for his company or team, he has to think about how to incorporate the solution into the system. It there is any changes occur in the process then as an engineering manager you have to think how to communicate or enforce those changes to your current employees. Also you have to think how to communicate or enforce those changes to the employees who haven’t hired yet.

Motivation

This is the most obvious thing one can learn less from an engineer and more from an engineering manager.  To be a good manager you should have the skill to motivate the people. 

As an engineering manager you should know strength and weakness of every person in your team. Also the most important thing is that you should know what thing drives them to come on work daily. With the help of these things you have to calibrate the work with the team members based on the motivation. There can be different ways of motivating the people. Some can be motivated with recognition, rewards, pure desire to solve extremely difficult problems. If you choose the best way to motivate them then your work of managing them becomes easier.

To motivate the people you have to think beyond analytics and know each person personally. You have to follow one to one conversation with each person which is not related with the office work and in this way you have know them on a deeper level by building a good rapport.

Some task assigned to Everyone is Assigned to No one

This is not related with engineering, but it is extremely useful for transitioning from an engineer to an engineering manager. In general, when a task is given to a group then it will not be done. You have to make someone responsible to ensure that task will be done. 

The transition of an engineer to an engineering manager is really very tough process and this transition is not very easy. Management is definitely not for everyone. However, engineers are better prepared for management than any other person in the company.


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