Do you even code?

Transitioning from engineer to manager is like taking a stroll down memory lane

Gabriela Motroc

Woman changing smileys on her face image via Shutterstock

Some view the transition from engineer to manager as pure torture, others simply want to move up but just a few are truly aware of the benefits and risks of juggling passion for code and management responsibilities. How do you know if you are cut out to be an engineering manager?

Transitioning from engineer to manager is —for some— like taking a stroll down memory lane: you remember the things that made you love your job, but you also realize those times are gone. How did you end up here? Some people just blame it on the Dunning–Kruger effect: a cognitive bias in which low-ability people wrongly assess their competence as much higher than it really is. In short, everything you think you can do is an illusion kept alive by external factors such as the following: your peers think it is time you climbed up the ladder, you feel you are at a crossroads, you have been belittled and you think you will gain respect and recognition (of all sorts) or you are in it for the money.

Have good engineering managers gone extinct?

Juan Pablo Dellarroquelle, VP of Engineering at Medallia, explained in an article for VentureBeat that good engineering managers don’t exist. He opined that engineers can be divided into two pools: one consists of engineers who simply want to “move up” and the other includes those who have gained their peers’ respect because they want people to try hard and love what they do.

According to Dellarroquelle, the second pool is the one that contains the right people —those who can lead and mobilize their peers, but they are also the ones that don’t want to move up. But what happens when people from the first pool become engineering managers?

SEE ALSO: Do programmers take advantage of managers that don’t understand code?

Confusing “being a good engineer” with “being a good manager”

Pawel Brodzinski, CEO at Lunar Logic, suggested that great engineers should not be promoted to management positions because they are two different things. One of the reasons why great engineers should not become managers is that they think “in terms of code, not in terms of people.” Plus, the skill set is so different that it is “highly unlikely that your best engineer is also your best candidate for a manager.”

Going back to Dellarroquelle, if your best engineer wants to become a manager, chances are that they will regret the decision and grab every opportunity to write code. Although reminiscing about old times is apparently a healthy habit, if you are second-guessing your decision you may be wearing the wrong shoes.

So you’re a manager. Now what?

Eliot Horowitz, the CTO and co-founder of MongoDB, explained in an article for Dr. Dobb’s that engineering managers should code 30 percent of their time in order to maintain contact with the code and team. Although many people claim that managers should concentrate solely on the strategy and management, Horowitz believes that “once a person stops coding for a significant portion of time, critical connections to the concerns of developers atrophy.” 

SEE ALSO: How to pick your battles on a software team

Reaching 30 percent may be difficult sometimes due to all the distractions that go hand in hand with being a manager, but keep in mind that “your team respects you for loving code.” Leading by example is indubitably the best way to handle this new journey. However, the fact that all you want to do is code when there’s a pile of projects on your desk could mean that you are simply not cut out for management.

What is your career goal?

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If you chose option number 3, kindly answer the following question in the comments section: Do you think it’s possible to do both? How?

Gabriela Motroc
Gabriela Motroc was editor of and JAX Magazine. Before working at Software & Support Media Group, she studied International Communication Management at the Hague University of Applied Sciences.

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