Almost 2 years ago I coincidentally fell into becoming a Manager. In my past career I never thought that this would happen. Most of my life I’ve been working as an Engineer, solving technical problems and building apps, products or just circuit boards.
I learned a lot of things the hard way, while actually failing or doing something great. But also by reading a lot, books about management, teams and culture, experience articles by others who went through the same.
As all our individual experiences are different I thought I’d take the chance and return the favor, by writing this article sharing 4 points, which helped me level up and grow into my management position.
Most of my experience is with remote teams and remote direct reports, but I can’t see why those things wouldn’t be effective for co-located teams.
Say Goodbye to Coding
… and say Hello to your team. I know this is a really tricky one. To stop doing what you’ve been doing for maybe the past years, and what also ultimately got you here. But you have to realize that becoming an Engineering Manager is not a promotion, it is a career change, so things naturally change. I realized, that after a while coding became a distraction for me. At the beginning of this shift, I was still shipping features and bug fixes, while also doing 1:1s with the team on a weekly basis. I couldn’t fully concentrate on one or the other, that resulted in me doing a bad job in both things. Both of them are important, but you have to choose one, in my case that was the team, and not the code.
As a manager you need to put the company first, your team second, and team members last. Now this may sound harsh but it is actually the opposite. Let me give you an example if you would mix up the order:
You could easily find yourself with an amazing team, building something that doesn’t move the needle in any way for the company. Or worse, working with a group of empowered individuals, each going off on their own way and not producing much valuable work.
I hope I could help make the point here, that it is super important for you as a manager to understand the higher level picture or vision, you need to know where the ship needs to sail. Only then can you help your team get there and help them grow into the right direction.
Own your Education
This one is probably pretty straightforward and could be said about any role or any job. But it is still worth mentioning especially in a career shift similar to mine, going from Engineer to Manager.
I always use this quote from Albert Einstein to highlight how important learning is for us humans (just replace moving with learning).
Life is like riding a bicycle, in order to keep your balance you must keep moving
The main thing I did in my first few weeks and months was to read, to read and to read. Learning what Management actually is. What are Management Styles? How do I facilitate great 1:1s? How can I be a great Manager without ending up micro-managing everything?
I learned how important it is to be open and honest, and to build trust in my team, and to encourage discussions.
I learned more about everyone in my team, what they like and don’t like. What is their work style? Do they flourish in chaotic situations or dread them?
All those things are important to understand, to help each individual grow and perform at their best level.
I learned about the different processes we had or were missing at Buffer. Your job as an Engineering Manager is it to make the life of your team easier, and to move obstacles out of their way. So knowing how things are done, and where you can improve them is highly important.
Here are a couple of books I would encourage everyone to read, who leads a team or manages one:
Managing Humans by Michael Loop
Really insightful for first time managers, and learning what’s its all about, and foremost learn that it is all about humans.
The Manager’s Path by Camille Fournier
Awesome overview of the what roles an engineering team normally has and what the expectations in those job might be.
The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
I would call this my favorite book, when it comes to building great teams. Although it is written in a fable style, it is so insightful, and so resourceful! Really recommend this to everyone who works in a team.
Build your Megazord
What is a Megazord you might ask? Maybe some of you grown up in the 90’s or know the Power Rangers? Well the Megazord is the big robot, they create together when they need to fight a bigger more powerful enemy. They could never fight an enemy that big alone, so they come together and form this huge invincible machine. We all know that the sum is always bigger than each individual alone.
What I want to say with that is you have to create a support network. Find people who will push you out of your comfort zone, and show you a new way of doing things. Having people around you with different experiences, is the best you can do. Find Psychologists, Design Leaders, or even a Kitchen Chef. Understanding how others approach problems, or find solutions is so key in broadening your horizon!
And there was even an easy way for me to do so. I signed up to 2 Slack Communities at the beginning of my transition. Just by learning how others approach those things, or just learning that bigger companies, or more experienced leaders still struggle with similar problems, was super helpful to me.
Go ahead and sign up to them, learn from the community, return the favor and share your learnings and struggles too:
Don’t do it All
This last (but not least) point is something I just discovered recently, and it opened my mind. We all know that delegation becomes more important the more people you might lead or the more work you have on your hands. Delegating sounds easy, right? I just tell everyone what to do…
Well I thought so too, but I discovered that it is not easy, and that it requires active work to do delegation the right way.
I thought I was doing great in my job, everything was going well, then I discovered this article by Camille Fournier through my manager Katie. And it opened my eyes! I wasn’t doing bad, but there were a lot of improvements I took from this article.
The biggest learning, I have written in front of me on a sticky-note is:
I need to stop taking over work in the name of helpfulness
If your direct report asks you for input on a complex decision and you would take ownership of that, study the factors and help them make a decision, you limit their growth.
Telling someone in your team, you want to look over all the proposals and be the last one to have a say in something, you limit their growth.
As soon as I understood that, I felt bad. Essentially when I took over work or helped them out, I was blocking my team from growing! But that is what my job is, not helping out, but helping my team grow, helping them succeed.
There we go, I hope that those 4 points will help someone in their transition to becoming a manager. Let me know what you think about this! I am also happy to chat with people who are really interested in making this transition, or maybe don’t know how to even get to transition. If you are curious just reach out to me!