An X-days plan to become the best technical manager I can be.
After a lot of pondering, I think I am ready to make the announcement that I am transitioning from a software engineer to an engineering manager.
I know, I know, I am surprised too.
I always saw myself as a programmer only. I remember my first manager asking me in one of our first 1–1s whether I see myself going into management down the road.
My answer was very simple — “No! I don’t think I can ever stop programming”.
Fast forward 4 years and my goals and ambitions have changed a lot.
I have structured this post in the following way:
- Why did I move to management? - How will I cope without programming? - How am I preparing? - My ideal managerial style - First few managerial goals
Feel free to jump around if any section interests you more. Let’s get started.
Why Did I Move to Management?
Whether to start transitioning to an engineering manager was one of the most difficult decisions of my life so far. After a lot of pondering, I couldn’t let go of the opportunity I was presented with.
It was a chance to build a brand new team with new engineers, a new product, and a brand new mission.
Given my 1,000+ hours in Football Manager 2021 and 1,000+ hours in Civilization 5, not to mention the thousands of hours “being a manager” in Fifa, I have always loved building teams.
The opportunity I was presented with was as close to the above as it gets. I just had to accept it.
Now that you know at least one of my personal motivations, let’s talk about some others more focused on my work and career.
Being a manager comes with a lot of new responsibilities. You are not only responsible for your own actions, but you are also responsible for all your direct reports and of course the success of the team.
I relish more responsibility. As a result, it was a no-brainer.
As a manager, it’s your job to mentor and help your direct reports grow professionally.
Even as a Software Engineer, I was always interested in mentorship. I helped ramp up a number of engineers on my own team, and other teams within the company too.
Now that I will get to play such an important role in the growth of so many engineers, that’s something I always wanted. To me, impact matters a lot. Having an impact on people’s growth is one of the best impacts you can have.
Building A Brand New Team
I have already touched upon this.
I love team building! I think this was one of the biggest reasons to take on the new role.
More Impactful Decisions
As a software engineer, I always had the opportunity to make big decisions. The more I grew into my role, the more my decisions made an impact on the overall team.
Yet, I have always felt that being a manager your decisions tend to have more impact.
As I said before, you are responsible for every direct report of yours, as well as the execution of the team’s roadmap.
This goes hand in hand with the “increased responsibility” that I have always loved.
A New Direction
For most of my career as a software engineer, I was working on the same product.
I helped build a product from almost the ground up to something that tens of thousands of business owners around North America started using and getting value from. It was extremely rewarding!
However, it was time for a change.
I was craving a new direction. This new role gave me exactly that.
Will I Miss Programming?
I don’t think so. Let me try to explain why.
I Love Building Things!
At its core, I love building things.
My favorite part about coding was building things that people can use. I was always fascinated by it.
Becoming an Engineering Manager doesn’t mean I will stop building. Instead, I will have a huge role in a team that will build awesome products and features through code.
Sure, I won’t be as involved in coding it, but I will be just as responsible for building it.
I was always coding outside my day job.
I have a YouTube channel dedicated to programming if y’all weren’t aware.
Maybe the lack of programming in my day job will only spur me to invest more time and energy in my YouTube channel.
I am addicted to automation!
If I could, I would automate every single repetitive task in my life. I love writing scripts and programs that make my life easy.
I will still do that, regardless of what I do in my day job.
Engineering Managers Code Too!
I am managing a very small team and taking over a codebase that’s new to most of the team.
Given we are such a small team, and the product is so huge, that means more opportunities for me to get down into the trenches and code with my team.
For sure, I won’t get the time to code most days at work. I have already seen that! But occasionally, the team will rely on my backend skills, and I would gladly offer it wherever required.
How Am I Preparing?
If you are following me here on Medium for some time, you already know how obsessed I am with personal growth.
So, you bet I have a detailed plan to prepare for this new role.
Onboarding Materials at Work
I am privileged enough to be working at a company that values employee health and growth above all.
There is a comprehensive ramp-up plan for software engineers transitioning into engineering management.
I plan on using every resource available to me at work to become the best manager I can be.
Reading Management Books
Of course, my preparation will include reading books. What else did you expect?
For starters, these are the books I am reading:
- The First 90 Days by Michael D. Watkins
- The Making of a Manager by Julie Zhuo
- Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson
- Make Time by Jake Knapp
- Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink
So far, it’s been a slow read. These books tend to be very tense. I will get there soon though.
Talking To Other Managers
The new organization I moved into has some awesome managers already! I have been talking to them and learning more and more every day.
Most of the managers followed a similar career path to me, so hearing about their experiences so far has been priceless.
Learning about a new domain
Not only did I transition to an Engineering Manager, but I moved to a different org within my company.
That means new personnel, new products, new mission, and above all, new ways of doing things.
I am giving myself the time to learn about all these and get educated.
Digging into the code
The software engineer inside me is still there.
Of course, I will love digging into the code and figuring out how things work.
This is even more important right now, given our team is taking over a codebase we have never seen before. Without looking at the code, it’s very difficult to set the team roadmap.
That’s what I have been doing, especially the last few weeks, and it’s been a blast!
What Do I Want My Managerial Style to Be?
This one is difficult.
I can “want to be” a certain type of manager, but my actions might dictate otherwise. Who I become as a manager will ultimately be determined by what my direct reports think about me.
That’s why I will tell you what I want to be. However, the truth will be in all the anonymous surveys and manager calibrations.
Yet, let me tell you the kind of manager I want to be.
- Nurtures a healthy and positive team culture
- Builds a tightly-knit highly productive team
- Gives engineers autonomy over their work
- Motivates engineers to understand the impact of their work
- Technically sound so that I can act as a source of knowledge for the team
- Less micromanaging, more empowering the engineers
- Have a vision for the long-term success of the team
- Maintains a healthy balance between engineering and product investments
What Are My First Few Goals?
All said and done, if I end up becoming a good manager, will come down to what I can get done in the first few quarters.
Guided by my company’s ramp-up guides, and my own ambitions, I have a few things I want to achieve in my first few months.
Lead By Example. Set The Right Culture.
This is important to me.
I have firsthand seen what a positive multiplier having a healthy team culture can be.
The best way to implement a culture is by demonstrating it yourself.
I want to lead by example. If I expect something from an engineer, I want to be that or do that myself.
Good understanding of domain and systems
As I mentioned before, we are inheriting a totally new product and codebase.
I want to give myself the time to dig into things and understand the domain and the underlying systems.
Ramp up new engineers
In my small team of 3 engineers, 2 of them are new hires.
For any new hires, the first few months set the tone for the remaining years at the company. I want to make sure they are not overwhelmed.
I want to try my best to give them a good balance of challenge and growth.
It’s not going to be easy. But the plan is to try my best!
Some quick wins
The ultimate goal of a team is to provide business value.
I can set the right culture, and invest in the right technical projects, but without providing value to the business, the team won’t be doing much.
That’s why my goal is to get a few quick wins. I want to focus on the right things, and invest my time prudently.
The whole point of taking my time the first few weeks has been understanding what the team and the business need. Now that I have a better idea, I am focusing on getting us the first few wins.
Identify the first few technical investments
Talking about quick wins, it’s essential to plan the roadmap of the team as we get these small wins.
That’s why my focus is to strategically pick the first few tasks that will lead up to bigger technical projects over the course of the year.
Technical projects can always be tricky because sometimes the business value they provide is not obvious. It will fall on me to figure out ways to get buy-ins for these investments.
Identify the first few product investments
Similarly, and some might argue even more importantly, I need to figure out the first few product investments that will move the needle the most.
Luckily, I am working with a Product Manager who will think deeply about the product direction.
My goal is to work closely with them to decide, prioritize, and execute the first few projects that will improve product quality.
I hope you found this a valuable read and have some takeaways that you can go ahead and implement in your wonderful lives.
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