Hacker Career Advice
Let’s talk about managers. Not CEOs, SVPs, or founders—I mean people like Jennifer, an Engineering Manager at Foobar Labs, who’s responsible for a team of 8 engineers.
At its simplest, Jen’s job is to ensure that her team gets their work done and meets their goals. It sounds easy. Jen can just have her PM plan it all out in JIRA, tell the engineers to start coding, and then kick back in her corner office, right?
Jen is responsible for her team’s time management and processes. When is standup? 1 week or 2 week sprints? Annual or quarterly reviews? And who’s covering for Ben when he takes paternity leave?
As a manager, Jen’s performance is measured by her team’s performance. And if they drop the ball, she can’t write their code for them or punish them until they produce results. Even though she’s in charge, she’s not necessarily in control.
Jen’s best move is to facilitate her team’s success by getting her engineers the resources they need and removing obstacles in their way. The increased responsibility outweighs her private office & bigger paycheck.
Jen has to do things that make her uncomfortable. She can’t Bartleby out of disciplining or firing an employee. As a result, some people on her team may think she’s being mean or unreasonable. They might talk behind her back about what she did.
And Jen has to be ok with that, or at least try to put it out of her mind. Being a manager isn’t about being popular.
A lot of engineers who enjoy coding, like Jen, end up as managers because it’s the “next step” on the corporate ladder. Now, she spends the majority of her time talking to people and very little time, if any, writing code. Bye bye “maker schedule,” hello meetings and email.
Managers connect their team to the rest of the company. Jen has to simultaneously grow her domain knowledge (What’s this TensorFlow thing? How much are we paying in SaaS fees?), while also expanding her domain to include other departments like marketing, strategy, and human resources (We’ll need more engineers in order to build new marketing landing pages next quarter).
Jen also has to be there for her employees, both personally and professionally. She has to be sensitive, fair, and keep everything they tell her confidence. If her team can’t trust her, it won’t produce anything.
1:1s account for a quarter of Jen’s time; more if her team grows. Each session is like a diagnostic check, where she tries to evaluate her employees’ professional health: How are you doing? Are you getting along with Baz? What do you want to do next? How can I help you get there? What excites you about this project?
It’s repetitive and time consuming, but that’s how she learns what levers to pull and what she needs to change.
The point is, management is one way to advance your career, but it’s not quick, easy, or stress free.
If you enjoy writing code and want more money, ask for a raise. If you want a nicer office, find a company that’ll give you one. If you want more responsibility, volunteer to lead a project. None of those things require you to be a manager.
But, if you do want to apply your skills beyond engineering, take a tip from Jen and start thinking about what your team needs and how you can help them reach their next milestone. That’s management material.
© 2019 Neal Shyam