Why Management May Not Be Right For You

I often talk to engineers who are interested in making the big jump to management and becoming engineering managers, but they're not sure if it's the right fit for them. They are (understandably so) concerned if they will like it or not, and what their day to day will look like. Here a few points you should consider before making the big jump into management.

It is not a promotion

Switching to management is not a promotion. Rather, it is a career transition and you'll be starting at the bottom of the career ladder where you'll feel like a novice at the beginning. Depending on your previous position as an Individual Contributor (IC), this might not even come with a raise. However, you'll have an opportunity to increase your impact on the company and business. You'll be learning something new every day. You'll help people grow in their career and as individuals. There are a lot of pros to being a manager, but don't make the switch if your main motivator is to climb the career ladder and make more money. In this case, you might want to stay on the technical track and grow there.

Get ready to code much less

As a manager, you'll be coding a lot less (read: almost not at all), and you have to be okay with that. I personally work on side projects a few hours per week to get my coding fix and keep learning new technologies, but I do not contribute meaningful code at my day job and that's 100% fine with me because my focus is on delivering more impact to the team and business by focusing on higher-leverage areas. A key concept you should also aspire to is to stay involved with code, but stay out of critical paths such as being a required reviewer or a blocker for shipping a feature. Instead, you could work on a bug fix or internal tooling to help improve the team's velocity.

Pictured above are my GitHub contributions as an engineer VS manager

Your definition of success will change

As a manager, your definition of success will change. Successes are far more spread apart than as an Individual Contributor, and you will not be getting the same adrenaline rush. As an engineer, you might be getting multiple successes per day when you ship a fix or merge a PR — that adrenaline rush that feels good. As a manager, your successes might be helping the team re-align on a project, hitting a quarterly objective, helping an engineer get promoted, or writing a proposal that gets approved by the VP. As you can imagine, these successes take longer to build and are more spread out, and the adrenaline rush you get will also be different.

Meetings, meetings, meetings

Your days will mostly be spent in meetings, despite how much you try to reduce the number of hours spent in meetings. I've found certain tricks to help me take better control of my calendar — and it helps a lot — but the bottom line is that you have to attend and even run a lot of important meetings. These meetings include (ideally weekly) 1:1s with your direct reports, team planning meetings, leadership and organization meetings, etc. Because of that, you'll also have less uninterrupted chunks of time so you will be less likely to "be in the zone" unless you are very defensive with your calendar. For instance, I block out large chunks of time on my calendar to ensure that I get regular focus work done and don't jump from a meeting to another.

Finally, this is not a one-way door

It's important to note that making the switch to management should not be a one-way door. I suggest trying it out for 1-2 years to gain experience, a different perspective, and gain insights into how your manager thinks, and then deciding if you want to pursue it further or would prefer switching back to being an engineer. On average, it takes about 2-3 years before your skills erode so you should still be in a relatively good place to jump back to engineering after 1-2 years.

If these do not sound like blockers to you and are motivating instead, then you should be well prepared for making the switch to management. I hope I was able to provide more insight into what a manager's role entails and that I brought up some good points for you to consider if this is the right fit for you or not.


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© 2020 - designingforscale.com content licensed under the Creative Commons CC BY 2.5 | Unless otherwise stated or granted, code samples licensed under the MIT license.
© 2020 - designingforscale.com content licensed under the Creative Commons CC BY 2.5 | Unless otherwise stated or granted, code samples licensed under the MIT license.