Transitioning from IC to Engineering Manager: my main two challenges
Almost two years ago I made a switch in my career. After spending almost 15 years contributing as an individual contributor (IC) I have decided to try out a new career. I have switched to a manager & leadership role. Everyone has different reasons why they decide to do a switch. For myself it felt like a natural move. I started to be more interested in the team's efficiency and delivery. Stakeholders and project management looked more interesting than coding. Moreover I also started to enjoy growing other engineers around me.
Quite a lot of engineers I met in my career think that management is a natural path for a senior engineer and even treat it as promotion. Well, both statements are false. Management is a different career path. And by far this is not a promotion. Salary wise you even might get a lower offer than a senior engineer. I have also seen cases when inside the company senior engineers switch to EM roles and get a salary cut. So if you are thinking of becoming “a boss” with a “huge compensation” simple advice - look elsewhere as this is wrong motivation.
The transition from being an IC to a manager can be a difficult, bumpy and surprising one. It really depends on the experience and skills you’ve built before doing a switch. Two main challenges that many engineering managers, including myself, face are emotional drain and the feedback loop of their actions.
Emotional Drain. One of the main challenges that engineering managers face is the emotional drain that comes with the role. As an engineering manager, you are responsible for not only your own work, but also the work and delivery of your team. Managing a team's performance can be a heavy burden. There are situations when you hear only about the things “that do not work” or “are broken”. You have to learn to deal with that and focus on possible solutions. Additionally, you will have to deal with conflicts and difficult conversations, which can take a toll on your emotional state.
Feedback Loop. Another challenge I faced myself is the feedback loop of my actions. As an IC I was used to write a code, test it and deploy to production. I was getting almost instant feedback if my code works. It is not so easy for a manager. In my work it's important to make data-driven decisions, but it can be difficult to gather the data and information needed. It can take time (and in most situations it will) for the impact of actions to become apparent. Days, weeks, sometimes months. It’s difficult to know if decisions are having the desired effect. It is challenging to make adjustments and improvements in a timely manner.
Managing a team of engineers can be a challenging but rewarding experience. Just make sure before you jump into this role full time give yourself some preparation. Learn and invest in soft skills, read a couple of books on engineering management. Most importantly work closely with your manager and lead multiple mid to big scope projects yourself. If possible, get a chance to mentor less experienced engineers. By the way, getting a mentor yourself would not hurt either.
If you found it interesting, I have also started a newsletter about Engineering Management.