A few months into their new position, engineering managers start agonizing how they hardly get time to do any technical work. They feel they would soon become redundant if they don’t start contributing in the technical areas.
I get it, I’ve been there.
I remember the constant assault on my self esteem when I was first promoted to be a manager. Most of the things that I had learned to get to that position were all of a sudden..umm…good-for-nothing. As if all my technical chops had implemented an IDisposable interface overnight. Sigh!
If you’re going through the same phase a) please know that you’re not alone, b) understand what has changed.
Earlier, as an individual contributor, it was all about you, you, and you. There were days when you wrote great code and then there were some when you didn’t. It was either 0 or 1. Team’s success depended on you, but you were still a lone warrior.
But nothing is permanent. The moment you become a manager, the focal point changes. It’s not about your individual contributions anymore. It’s all about the team now and the work they are producing. You become responsible for the team’s success and failure.
The metrics of your success changes from the world of binary to the world of grays. And when the playing field changes, you need to change your perspective instead of drowning yourself in the sea of self-doubt.
This is why it’s pointless to indulge in the thought of becoming redundant. You can’t become redundant, even if you wanted to, as your job’s responsibilities have changed. You are now akin to a maestro orchestrator who needs to ensure that your team plays the most memorable symphony.
Here’s an equation by the legendary Andy Grove from his book High Output Management to help you see your managerial impact.
A manager’s output = The output of his organization + The output of the neighboring organizations under his influence
The most significant implication here? Technical work done by the manager doesn’t surface in this equation.
So what does this equation mean for you?
Output of your organization > Your individual output
You are only recognized for the quality and speed of your team — your efforts become the sum total of all of your team’s effort. Your contributions are judged and remembered by how well your team is doing.
“A leader is as good as the team.”
To make sure you get the best out of the team, you have to manage it well. Set the vision. Set the expectations around the desired outcome. Have one on ones with your team members. Give feedback. Seek feedback. Help set the cadence for deliveries. Run effective meetings. Manage the sprints and the plan. Manage the stakeholders. Assess the outcomes. Celebrate. Reflect. And do everything possible that helps a manager manage a team well.
Did you see the time to program anywhere in the above list? Nope.
It’s not that you can’t code or you don’t want to code. Because if you want to you WILL find time for it. But your primary responsibility becomes uniformity of the codebase, making sure the code reviews happen, and the team releases a high quality software.
Output of neighboring organization > Your individual output
You would be a rockstar engineering manager if you were to merely focus on the first part of the equation. You could be even better if you were to cast the spell of your influence on other engineering groups within your organization. Also, your growth within the organization is predicated on this particular variable.
You could influence other groups in different ways. Review their architecture. Participate in their code reviews. Share knowledge about creating better teams and software with them. Run innovation initiatives. Participate in hiring. Suggest new process initiatives.
In a nutshell, make an effort to elevate the overall quality of your entire organization.
Managing a software team vs. being in a software team are totally different things. You need a new Swiss army knife of skills when you get promoted to be a manager. Thus, there isn’t any merit in agonizing over not getting the time to do the technical stuff as that wasn’t the reason you were promoted in the first place.