Jason and Eiso wrap up their three-part series on Engineering Leadership roles by taking a deep dive into Engineering Managers and Tech Leads.
Learn how to hire your first engineering manager, whether to hire your engineering leaders from inside the company, and how the roles of tech leads change as your company grows. We also covered communication techniques and how to design your teams as the company scales and communication lines increase.
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This gladly doesn't happen in most companies anymore today, but I think we should just call it out once and for all, non-engineers being managers of engineering teams, there really isn't ever a case where that makes sense.
Answer the question: "What are you optimizing for?". We need to speed up. We need to execute better. We need to have better context and allow people to be more autonomous. We need to scale quickly because of what we're going to do. Understand what you're optimizing for, but orient everyone around a mission. The mission could be for the entire company or the local team. That team should grow past whatever you perceive to be your maximum sustainable point for it. And then, you can have a conversation about changing the structure in terms of splitting it, adding another manager, or adding two teams to one manager.
To go from, "I have an aptitude towards becoming an engineering manager," to "I'm going to be a great people manager," I often feel that 80 or 90% of it is about teaching people how to have conversations that they're not comfortable having naturally. And this is a very basic thing. And I've had great discussions with people who I have mentored or coached. And even myself, if I go back to myself as a first-time leader or manager, I stressed over conversations that I probably didn't handle great, that today feel like a run-of-the-mill.
Sports have the notion of this, by the way. You're young, and you're talented. You're in the minor leagues for a little while. Then you can graduate and go to the pros for a couple of weeks or a month. Maybe you don't do that well, so you go back down and spend more time there. Then you come back up. We have no notion of that in startups. You're in the big leagues already just by being in a startup and managing people. And we don't even give them the skillset. We throw them at the back or send them right out on the floor or the pitch. We just say, "go nuts." That's, I think, a failure on the industry's part, but it's just the way the industry is.
When you're hiring externally for any management position, it is essential that you involve some of the team in that. It's also important to understand that when you bring somebody in, automatically, you're distancing yourself from some of the day-to-day work. So you have to understand how you will interact with that person and how that person will change aspects of the organization, whether it be culture, style, or execution. Obviously, you're hiring someone for that reason, but too often, I see someone coming in and say, "Hey, we hired this person, but they're changing the way that we execute," well, that was part of their job. Have you had the conversation about whether that was part of your expectation or not?