Engineering managers who are successful typically possess a combination of qualities that enable them to excel in their roles. These include being lifelong learners, having strong communication skills, and being adept problem solvers. However, these attributes only scratch the surface. Jean Hsu, who has held engineering positions at both Google and Medium, and is currently the Vice President of Engineering at Range, has stated that an effective engineering manager must possess a wide range of skills and capabilities that go beyond just these three attributes.
Hsu discusses the characteristics of effective engineering managers in this blog post.
Focusing one’s efforts where they will have the most effect
As an engineering manager, it is essential to prioritise tasks that will be most beneficial to the company. According to Hsu, “there is a multitude of things that must be done at the start of any business.” Therefore, it is imperative to assess where one can be the most productive and develop their skills while still considering other factors. For instance, when Hsu first started at Range, he divided his work between developing the internal codebase and other tasks. Nevertheless, he soon recognised that this was not the best way to use his time and instead, he should focus on tasks like increasing the customer base, utilising technical leaders’ networks, and bringing them to Range.
Hsu emphasises that when working on a leadership team, there are not many structures in place to foster creative thinking. As a result, people tend to act in accordance with what they think is best for the organisation. She believes that it is a collective of different initiatives taken on by those who are trying to bring about positive change. Consequently, she believes that it is essential to be able to find a way to help the organisation and still fulfil one’s own targets.
Able to tolerate ambiguity
As an engineering manager at Mia, Hsu was faced with a situation in which her team was not performing up to expectations. At first, Hsu felt stress and was overwhelmed by the uncertainty of the situation. Nevertheless, she was able to reframe her perspective and approach the challenge with enthusiasm and confidence. With this new outlook, Hsu was able to tackle the unknowns and eventually turn the team around.
As a result, she believes it is critical to seek out scenarios that give the appropriate learning curve for dealing with challenges in the future.
Hsu stresses that engineering managers must be cognizant of their capabilities and limitations, and that uncertainty is an inevitable part of life. She advises that the best way to manage this is to focus on the controllable elements and have faith in one’s own ability to overcome any challenges that may arise. Additionally, having a well-defined plan to guide both oneself and one’s team will demonstrate a capacity to grapple with uncertainty. Ultimately, Hsu maintains that by being mindful of what one can and cannot do, it is possible to handle any unexpected circumstances.
Teammates getting ready for the future
Engineering managers must take the time to understand what their workers want not just from their current role, but from their career as a whole. When she joined Range, Hsu informed the engineers that, while she was delighted to be there, eventually they all would move on. Furthermore, she asked them to consider what they would be interested in working on and how their time at Range could be best used. This exercise enabled her to gain further insight into their interests, and what they wanted to focus on.
Sara suggests that some individuals may opt for a more conventional management pathway, such as a staff engineer, for various reasons. To ensure that these individuals are given the opportunity to pursue the career of their choice, it is important to gain an understanding of what attracts them to this particular professional route.
Providing a better work-life balance for workers
Engineers must continually strive to ensure their teams are able to achieve a healthy work-life balance. According to Hsu, when organisations begin to implement a remote-first culture, there will be considerable changes in their talent pool. “Employees will be drawn to organisations that have a robust framework in place which allows for both working from the office and remotely to be done effortlessly.” She goes on to say that, “In the wake of the pandemic, many people, myself included, are looking for a good balance between work and life, that can be achieved through hybrid working possibilities.
According to her, engineers are able to increase their output when working from a distance, as the nature of the job allows for a back-and-forth dialogue to take place asynchronously. Engineering managers, on the other hand, must be aware of the regulations that affect both the organisation and the morale and efficiency of their employees. It is only through this understanding that they will be able to retain and recruit talented personnel.
Engineering managers who demonstrate excellent performance possess an action-oriented attitude towards their tasks. They strive not only to get the job done, but also to ensure that the correct approach is taken. They are capable of forming a vision and expressing expectations clearly. Furthermore, as Hsu has noted, these outstanding engineering managers are attentive to their team members’ issues, and work diligently to create an environment of collaboration.
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