Key Focuses For New Engineering Managers

30 Mar 2022 4:34 PM | Patrick Sweet (Administrator)

This post is by Anand Safi

Over the past decade, I've worked both as an individual contributor as well as leadership/ management roles. I also do a lot of Mentorship and Coaching for engineers who aspire to move to engineering management and early-tenure engineering leaders. Through this experience, I've learned that many engineers who want to make the move into management are unprepared for this transition, and there is very little training available to support them.

Through this article, I wanted to provide some guidance for new engineering managers and provide a couple initial focus areas that a first time EM can build upon.

Focus Area 1: Trust, Collaboration and Communication

When you are a new/ recent engineering manager (say, in your first 90 days) a quick thing you will realize is you need to gain trust, build relationships and rapport quickly -- not only with your fellow engineering talent, not only with your direct reports, but also with all the other discipline stakeholders. As an individual contributor, you might spend 80% of your time with your engineering team. But in an engineering management role, you might only spend 50% of the time with your engineers. The other 50% time is spent with people who are stakeholders representing other cross-functional disciplines, such as product, design, UX,  or QA. 

Additionally, there are other teams like people ops, recruiting, platform, customer support, customer success and deployments for example. Hence, you need to build relationships early on because your team cannot be successful unless everyone in each discipline is aligned on the common goal and plan to get there.

Focus Area 2: Information Collection, Compartmentalization and Sharing

The amount of cross-communication and information that will be made available to you will continue to rise exponentially. Whether that is pre-set routine meetings, ad-hoc situations or some form of change management – there will be a plethora of details that you will hear, will need to act upon, or will need to pass around. The need to manage information will quickly become a core part of your day-to-day role as an engineering manager. 

To manage the volume of information you can expect to receive, you should develop a structured way to capture and process all the information that you were going to be exposed to throughout the day. Important information can be conveyed through casual conversations in Slack messages and routine one-on-ones with your staff. Bearing this in mind, it's important to have your subconscious mind active in terms of recognizing the need to bring information to others, or to take some other action. You do need to make sure that you are staying at the top of all conversations.

Focus Area 3: Active Listening

Given the importance of sharing information mentioned above, an important skill as an engineering manager is being an active listener. Being an active listener is important because you can never be sure when important information is going to come to the surface and when that information will be needed. Modern organizations are very busy places, with many people working on many different things. If you don't pay close attention, it is going to be difficult for you to recall important information days, weeks, or months after the fact. To that end, keeping some sort of documentation system and an action item as a to-do list can help a lot.

About the Author

Anand is a Senior Engineering Leader for Mark43 - a public safety SaaS company. Over the past decade, Anand has progressed from starting as an aspiring engineer to becoming an engineering leader. Anand also is a Startup Advisor, Volunteer Board Member and an established tech mentor outside of his role. He loves reading about engineering culture, team dynamics and new advancements in tech.

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