It feels like it was yesterday when I became an engineering manager but it has been almost a year. I want to take this time to reflect on the challenges and learnings from this journey.
I touched on a few points when writing about transitioning to an Engineering Manager role and things to know before becoming an Engineering Manager. Today, I’ll reflect on a few more points that took me a while to learn.
Take new problems as an opportunity to learn
My first few months, I managed a team of mobile engineers for a product line I knew well and helped develop. It was a comfortable transition.
Through an engineering team restructuring, I had to step in and support a wider team made of backend and mobile engineers, but the product line and responsibilities were much more focused on the backend side.
As an engineer, I’ve always been happy to help where problems are. I applied the same mindset as a manager. If there is a need for one in a team or product I’m not familiar with, I will still try my best, even when it points to my lack of expertise, in this case, the backend stack.
It required hours of reading, but also asking and learning from the team members to understand the technical challenges, so I can help address the right problems.
Acknowledge the struggle
As a mobile engineer with years of experience, I knew what to do to be efficient and successful in my work. But new to this role, and with a longer feedback loop, it felt much more difficult to “feel” if I was efficient or successful. With this doubt, I applied the approach that worked for me so far: work harder through long days, trying to get this feeling of struggle out. That feeling of too many projects and deadlines, and not sure how much you can ask from your team before they turn unhappy.
This feeling pretty much never left over the year, but the more I asked around other experienced managers, the more I realized it was normal: all of them felt that way when they started. Similar to an engineer at the start of a career, you feel lost and confused and wonder how others get things done.
To tune this voice down, requires me to be more structured in my work, not only planning a week or two, but maybe a few more months or quarters. It’s probably hard to get rid of it completely, but it’s feasible to live with it if you understand where this struggle comes from.
It’s also something you can recognize the signs earlier in your team and help them out before it eats them alive and burn them down.
Humility doesn’t mean weak
As I come from a mobile engineering expertise, it is challenging to keep up with a lot of backend topics. It means I had to keep an open-mindedness and self-awareness in my ability to address issues in this area.
If I’m tasked to deliver a wide backend feature and I don’t know what could be the challenges, I would form some time to learn, understand and discuss it with team members, and finally assess the project. Answering without understanding the topic could be much worse for its success of it. At every step of the way, I need to stay humble and keep learning for the challenges that come my way.
Trust your team and believe in yourself
That sounds cliché but without trusting your team and second-guessing every choice they make, it won’t help them to grow and definitely won’t help you. That doesn’t mean not asking questions or challenging technical ideas. For instance, choosing a tech stack for a new service, you can always ask how it will be rollout, or tested, or what are the trade-offs for it, etc. It doesn’t mean shooting down their idea but helping them get a complete answer.
In the same aspect, believing in yourself is a key component to avoid second-guessing all your decisions too. Instead, you should make sure you have confidence in your decision based on the information you have at that time. Take it the other way around: if you were doing something wrong, people would eventually tell you (your manager, your report, your peers).
So acknowledge the success of your team as an opportunity to realize how good your team is, and that you have the right instinct. Eventually, things will click (so they say).
My journey is still far from being complete, it will take me time to be fully comfortable, but let’s not rush it, lessons and learnings in a management role take time to digest, so patience is key.
Photo credits - Md Mahdi