For those who have devoted a significant part of their career to honing technical expertise, the prospect of becoming an engineering manager can seem daunting. In her blog post, Jessica McKellar, Chief Technology Officer at Pilot, shares her own journey transitioning from a team leader to a technical leader in engineering management, outlining the indispensable takeaways she gained from this experience.
Jessica further simplifies her journey into straightforward concepts to help technical leaders attain success.
As per McKellar, there are three main focal points for an engineering manager:
- Providing direct support to your team members
- Overseeing execution and collaboration across multiple teams
- Monitoring and enhancing processes as the team and company grow.
In what ways can engineering managers provide direct assistance to their team?
As an engineering manager, it is imperative to guarantee the proper functioning of your team members. Working effectively must be practiced by everyone on the team.
How exactly? By focusing on two critical aspects: the everyday productivity and longer-term performance of your engineers.
As a leader, it is incumbent upon you to ensure that your team’s daily activities are in line with their long-term goals.
To meet the needs of your organisation while supporting your team, it may be worthwhile to assign projects to engineers that will enable them to thrive in areas that are important to them.
To help your engineers identify and seize the most promising career opportunities, it is crucial to take their career aspirations into account while defining their roles within the organisation. By investing time in comprehending the objectives of each engineer, you can construct positions that enable them to achieve their goals and also propel the success of the company.
Here are three questions that McKellar advised to better comprehend your engineers.
- What abilities do they want to cultivate?
- What technical and non-technical experiences are they seeking?
- What is their plan to expand their influence within the organisation?
Thinking about one’s career objectives in five years can be overwhelming, and there is often an implied expectation that one should express a willingness to stay with their current employer.
As a manager, it falls upon you to establish a supportive environment for open communication and dialogue. A good way to achieve this is by initiating a conversation about the career aspirations of each team member. Encourage them to pursue different opportunities if that is what they require to reach their desired goals. Your honesty and encouragement will cultivate a work culture of transparency and reliability among your team members.
Apart from having candid conversations, establish a system to ascertain what ignites passion in individuals outside of their work description.
Using these observations as a foundation, it is advised to have a conversation with your engineers to identify incentives that genuinely drive them. This communication can assist them in better understanding how your organisation can assist them in achieving their personal career goals. Such conversations can lead to greater collaboration and progress.
The competence of a team is directly linked to the engineering manager’s ability to execute.
As engineering managers, it is our duty to recognise and foster engineers who demonstrate the potential to advance into management positions. We should discern between those engineers who are contented with their coding role and those who aspire to grow into management. Every flourishing engineering manager has experienced a similar journey, and with appropriate guidance, such success can be emulated.
As per McKellar, if you facilitate the growth of your team members’ personal capabilities, you will be able to achieve much more.
Having confidence in the technical leaders within your organisation is crucial and it is important to grant them autonomy in handling challenging assignments. Rather than intervening at the first sign of difficulty, it is advantageous to let them make mistakes and use such errors as opportunities for learning. By empowering them to independently analyse, assign and implement projects, they will be able to sharpen their skills and contribute to the organisation’s accomplishments.
Investing in the professional growth of your team is a reliable method for enhancing their potential and elevating overall performance. To accomplish this, establish an environment that promotes cooperation between new and seasoned engineers. This should include facilitating equal opportunities for knowledge exchange, such as training programs, team bonding exercises and honest dialogues. In doing so, your team will not only receive invaluable insights and experience, but will also build cordial relationships that will encourage trust and collaboration.
It is crucial to adopt a balanced strategy when assigning projects since new team members can contribute innovative viewpoints, while those with more experience can instil discipline and reinforce the organisation’s culture. By equitably distributing assignments, the entire team can take advantage of the strengths that each member brings.
All engineering managers are obligated to furnish their teams with the appropriate tools and methodologies.
According to McKellar, design a procedure that not only communicates the details of the current project to your team but also outlines how it will impact their future positively.
Examining and comprehending the career development aspirations of each team member is vital. Once identified, endeavour to integrate these goals into your process to enable them to work on projects that are impactful and align with their desired career paths.
Foster a productive development environment:This involves providing your new hires with necessary resources and designing a streamlined onboarding process that enables them to quickly become familiar with their responsibilities.
Consistent check-ins:To guarantee the successful completion of a long and intricate project, it is crucial to establish a comprehensive and accurate feedback mechanism. This will assist in keeping the project on course and provide insights into any issues that may impede progress. Additionally, proactive communication with team members to identify potential roadblocks is essential. Therefore, regular unblocking sessions should be arranged to address and resolve any issues hindering productivity in a timely manner.
McKellar recommends integrating coding reviews, architectural reviews, and planning discussions into an organisation’s feedback system to gain detailed technical feedback and attain a comprehensive understanding of the bigger picture.
Practice openness:Keeping our engineers updated on the happenings at the executive level is imperative. By providing them with current information, they will be able to understand the inner workings of the company and be more committed to its success. Transparency plays a crucial role in fostering a culture of trust and collaboration amongst all members of the organisation.
Encourage intrinsic motivation:As managers, it is vital to endeavour to motivate and maintain positivity among our engineers, but this is not always feasible. A better approach is to assign engineers to projects that are aligned with their skills and interests. This will increase their likelihood of remaining engaged and stimulated by the work they are doing.
As a manager, it is crucial to offer support to our engineers and clarify the impact of the project on our organisation. By recognising the significance of their contribution to the project’s success, they will be more driven to deliver their best work. This will ensure that they do not need any further motivation to complete the task.
Becoming an engineering manager can be exhilarating, but embracing the duties of managing a team lacking the right mindset, comprehension, and strategies can be daunting. It is noteworthy that the challenges in becoming an accomplished engineering manager are largely personal rather than technical.
Make the most of Jessica McKellar’s extensive experience and incorporate her tactics to enhance your skill as an engineering manager.
While managerial proficiency is crucial, it is equally vital to have a team of trained and competent software engineers. An adept team will enable you to draw on their proficiency to propel successful engineering management endeavours.