Advice for new engineering managers26 May 2020
If you are new to engineering leadership or are considering doing it, here are a few things you should know -
Great engineer != Great manager
Being a great engineer does not necessarily mean you’ll be a great manager right off the bat. These are two vastly different disciplines. You will have to learn new skills, unlearn some old ones and deal with very different constraints. Don’t expect it to be a cakewalk.
Things won’t be binary anymore
Things on the technical track are binary - either something works or it doesn’t. In people leadership, it’s extremely rare to have that kind of clarity. Most of the time there will be no clear answer, so you just have to make tradeoffs.
Delegate, delegate, delegate
If there’s someone on the team who can do a task, don’t do it yourself. It’s tempting to go back to doing things that you have been good at, but don’t fall for it. Tackle different problems and learn new things otherwise you’ll be preventing both yourself and your team from getting better.
Your team will be your product
Previously you helped build a product, but in a leadership role, your team will be your product. Just as you used to think about making your product better, you should now think like that about your team. Hire the right people, give them opportunities to grow and figure out ways they can get better. You also need to ensure that there is no bureaucratic friction for your team. Deal with the red tape, so they focus on the product.
You won’t have all the answers and that’s ok
Get comfortable with not being the most knowledgable person in a room. You’ll have a lot less time to stay up to date and that’s normal. You don’t need to know all the answers, but you do need to know what questions to ask. Surround yourself with really smart people and leverage them to make the right decisions.
Most important things you’ll do
The two most important things you’ll do as a manager is deciding who to hire and who to fire. Always hire for future potential and let underperformers go if you don’t see improvement. The longer you take to make that decision, the more your team will suffer.
The pace of progress on things you’ll tackle will be much, much slower. It’ll be a while before you start seeing results for things you do. This is very different from what you experience as an engineer. Also, no matter how hard you try, there will always be at least 1 person who isn’t happy with you. Don’t try to please everyone and instead focus on doing the right thing, always.