Software Engineer to Engineering Manager. Should I?

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Sergej Brazdeikis
Sergej Brazdeikis

You think about the manager path, and you see an opportunity. You just can't put the dot on the decision. Let's explore it together.

Assess the motivation

Before doing it, first, explore why do want to do it? Writes down some notes for you:

  • Why do I think about it?
  • Do I imagine what the engineering manager role is?
  • Do I like it?
  • Am I curious to try it?
  • What benefits and disadvantages do you see?
  • There will be a lot to learn. Do I want to commit?
  • How do I see myself in two years? Five years?

Engineering manager. Should I switch from the engineer?

If you are curious to try it - do it.

When switched from an engineer to a more managerial role, I had to think on a team level. The very definition of success changed - now it is team success. System thinking on the team level is a daily exercise.

I also had to improve my soft skills - what I tell, how I speak, approach problems, react, behave, etc. All this suddenly had a way bigger impact. I learned many essential things about it for me as a manager. This experience had a very positive effect on my personality.

There are many other minor benefits from only getting this experience as an engineer and a person. This experience to look at teamwork from different expertise is invaluable.

It is not a promotion

Be aware of this! It is not a promotion - it is a track change! When you switch from engineer to manager, you are a Junior Engineering manager. And it is fair. Folks who support your growth see you in that role.

Amount of coding

Hands-on is a very tricky topic. I can tell it is all in your hands, and it is tough to balance coding and accelerated growth as starting manager. I'm sure you will have to find the best balance for you while on the job, which approach works for you the best.

One thing is vital to say, as your responsibility will not be purely code related, we will have to delegate coding tasks on critical implementation path to full-time software engineers. This way, your other tasks as manager will not negatively impact the whole team's performance. I'm not saying you cannot do this, be aware of it.

What is Success for an Engineering Manager?

All managers are on a different path—some in first years, fifth or maybe tenth year. Our views will change during the trip, how we do stuff changes. Today I personally, the successful engineering manager is the one who facilitates the team to be successful. And we are accountable for that.

Today how I see the success for a team:

  • Software engineering team delivers measurable impact to end-users and business.
  • The team is motivated, engaged and happy. Team members are open and tell that it is a team, not just a group of people.
  • The team is excellent from the DORA metrics perspective
  • The team grows skills, and as the team as each personally.

If interested, I suggest reading about The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable

The window of opportunity for about two years

Even if you find out later that it is not for you - you can switch back to a single contributor.

Two years is a window opportunity because your coding skills will not have a chance to disappear; you, in any case, are still as an engineer as today. And the switchback will be smooth.

Worth mentioning that you will never really fully come back to a single contributor mindset after switching back. You will think on a team level. It is a permanent upgrade :)

The only possible downside is that you can potentially get not up to speed with the latest technologies. The reason is that you will have a lot to learn within your new role. When you switch back to engineer - you quickly catch up, and if you continue being a manager - you find a way to keep up.

Engineering manager salary

It is a natural motivator to scale. I want to clear one thing right away - if you think or find out that this is not your thing, there is no point living in pain. As a single contributor, you can grow further on the Software expert track. Staff engineers, Senior Staff Engineers, Architect roles are parallel growth tracks, and salary matches or, in some cases, surpasses the manager's path.

It is all about how good you are, your passion, and your role impact. Great Software engineers in the right company grow and significantly positively impact engineering quality.

Consult with a good manager

Talk to a manager you respect, who you think could be a good reference. A good manager will tell you how it is in the first person - the joys, the challenges, and the downsides. The experience can vary a lot. Ask a few managers to form a better understanding.

Types of the Engineering manager role

Here is a dedicated blog post about it 5 Engineering Manager Archetypes from Pat Kua

If you choose to try it out, you will learn more techniques, like situational leadership and different ways to depend on the team state.

It is a rabbit hole on its own, and it is a beautiful path.

It is your decision

Whatever you decide is your choice, what path to go forward or when to do it. Do not get others to do it for you.

Enjoy the path you choose! It is most probably the right one :)