Break a leg! you, new engineering manager

Break a leg! you, new engineering manager

Have you just started your new position as an Engineering Manager? Or are you considering it as your next move? Either way, there are some pleasures and pains associated with the role especially the first month of your journey which you might like to know.

What character and personality do you have?

My interview with Atlassian was so fun experience. I had zero stress and I decided to have an amusing time with a learning experience over 5 interviews and in one of them I asked :

“What characteristics do you reckon an engineering manager should have?”

the interviewer gave me an interesting piece of advice:

“An engineering manager has features that are rarely presented in one person”

A) System thinking
B) Empathy and great communication
C) Technical knowledge
D) Strong project management

So I started ...gosh, so many things! Where should I start?

Although moving to a new company especially a large-scale one is so challenging, the great thing is, there is always a thorough onboarding plan prepared for each role.

Also, you always have a manager who helps you get oriented and a supportive team who set you for amazing success.

That doesn't mean it is an easy job, especially the first 30 days. The confusion is significant, the learning curve is immense and there are moments that you gaze open-mouthed at the monitor and thinking what the heck should I do? “Lest I forget those moments” :D

Start from where you know …

Well, that depends on which side of your character is stronger, start from there.

I am very much a people person and preferred to start from that side!

It is great if you get to know people around you, your manager, your team who report to you, set up 1-1 meetings first thing first, get in touch with your peers and other engineering managers, meet your triad team (architect and project manager) and so on.

Once you know people around you, the misunderstanding will be much less, then everyone will be in a healthier relationship, also people support you to find the rest of the puzzle and learn more.

How to add value in the first 30 days?

This question was on my mind from day 1 and I was kept reminding myself to take my time yet I was curiously looking to see how can I add value to my engineering team?

1- Listening

First of all, I needed to figure out what problems my team has been facing? That is impossible unless you listen to the feedbacks,  your team's pain points, your customers voice, your project manager.

As I am an engineer myself, It is much easier to put myself in other's shoes and have empathy with my team to see their problems.

Somehow I have shared many of their experiences in my previous developer roles.

How to hear their voice? Ceremonies are so helpful in this matter:

  • A constructive, blameless Retro ceremony is a great place to see what is your team’s pain points, challenges and satisfactions.
  • Other ceremonies like planning, triage and daily stand-ups help you understand the project management side of the team.
  • last but not least are 1-1 meetings and team gatherings which help you learn your team's culture and social conventions they already arranged.

2- System Thinking

System thinking not only looks at the symptoms but more at the root cause behind them. It looks at the situation as a whole, from a higher perspective. I have a Pots and Pans Analogy which is inspiring and shows how you can apply your system thinking in every problem from engineering teams to your kitchen!

What is my Pots and Pan analogy?

My kitchen cabinet used to be a mess! It was extremely difficult to take out one pan especially when I was in rush.

I had to pull one out which caused everything else fall over! I was swearing and sweating.

messy kitchen cabinet with pots on the top of each other
Not accessible, exhausting, less cooking joy
messy kitchen cabinet with pots on the top of each other
Not accessible, exhausting, less cooking joy

Once I shared my challenge and problem with my friends, they suggested 2 typical solutions that first come to mind.

1- Get rid of them, you have too many!

no joy in cooking
less parties at home, less convenient cooking, not enjoying enough

2- You need a bigger space

$$$ associated with that , can I afford a bigger house? More difficult maintenance and cleaning effort come with that too

Well using my  system thinking situation got much better for me, system thinking looks at the problems from a different perspectives:
1- Why there is not enough accessibility in your cabinet?
2- How organised your cabinet is?
3- How many pots and pans mean too many?
4- Do you need them all at the same time?
5- Is the whole space is used properly? Where is the waste?

The answer to these questions might make you find some other solutions to use better of your available capacity like using organiser tools and equipment rather than those 2 typical questions

system thinking is a great feature for a manager which helps to analyse the situations and seeing the root causes more clear and think out of the common box!
When you applied the Listening  and System Thinking strategy in your first month of being an engineering manager, you determine that you are aiming to support your team, add value, set them for success and let the sunshine in.