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Peter Mekhaeil
Peter Mekhaeil

Posted on • Originally published at petermekhaeil.com on

What I have learnt as an engineering manager

Taking care of people is hard. Mentors will warn you about this, but you’ll only really know how hard it is when you experience it. Regardless of the difficulty, it’s very fulfilling. There is a strong sense of satisfaction in your duties. And that is because people’s life’s and careers were involved and impacted.

You’re either in it 100% or you’re not in it at all. You cannot do half-baked job taking care of people and their careers. Their career is their top priority so it should be yours too. Model your own roles and responsibilies so it balances people first.

You will have very difficult conversations. Like really difficult ones. As a manager, you will need to confront them and you will learn how to handle them. Do not avoid giving critical feedback because people need to hear your feedback for their own self-growth.

Feedback is critical. There is different types of feedback that you can provide. You can use the Situation-Behavior-Impact (SBI) Feedback Model to provide constructive feedback to your peers.

Don’t be afraid to get personal in your 1:1s. Start the conversations as you would when you go for coffee with them. Ask them how is life treating them, or what they have planned for the weekend. And remember the conversations you’ve had so you can continue the flow in the next 1:1s. Sometimes these sessions shouldn't be about work and perhaps your team member wants to talk or take a break from the work hustle. This is how relationships are built.

It's not a solo job. Look out for the team members that will help you build and support the team. Do not think that you need to do everything yourself. A successful team is one that functions without you getting involved.

"Let it go". Wish someone told me these words during my first few months. The transition from an individual contributor to people manager isn’t straight forward. You’ll naturally want to write code and built features because you were doing it for so many years. It's part of your blood. You'll now need to remember you've changed profession. Plan your delegation. Your hands will be tied up with a lot of new responsibilities, so start early and free up your time because it’s going to get a lot busier for you.

Stay Technical. In saying the above, you'll still need to stay technical. Your new team wants to know you're technical so they can connect with you. You'll need to work out a balance between management and tech. Keep in touch with the industry. You'll also be learning from your team too.

"One Of Us". Work on letting your new team know you are one of them. Create an environment of openness and trust amongst your team. Work on letting them know you will always be there for them. They will support you when times get rough.

Management is a change of profession. Becoming an engineering manager is a different career path altogether and you'll be starting from scratch. You're now a junior again. You will do a poor job at the start. Read Charity Major's The Engineer/Manager Pendulum.

Don’t be afraid to take on the management path. You’ll have the full support from your new team, existing managers and business stakeholders. When you connect with them they will become your support model throughout your new challenges.

You can always return to being an individual contributor. Do not think because you’ve became an engineering manager that you can’t step back to the other path. Remember it’s not a promotion upwards but another path into a different career. When you're a manager, you pick up skills you don't experience when you're an individual contributor: How to have difficult conversations, how to resolve conflicts, how the business works, how to listen, how to communicate, how to provide feedback. These skills are powerful to have and bringing them back to an individual contributor role can be an advantage to your career growth. It was only until I learnt that being a manager is a different career and not a promotion, that I realised it okay to switch and return to building apps. With the added advantage of taking new skills with me - valuable skills I didn't know existed if I didn't become an engineering manager.

You have to manage yourself if you want to manage others. This would be my biggest lesson. I needed to work on my own self-growth. I needed to be more aware of who I am. How I handled situations in life, how I reacted to emotions and events, finding what drives me in life and in my career. The more I got to know who I am, the more I was able to manage and understand the lifes of others that I needed to manage in the work place.

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