Engineering management is a complex and diverse role. It requires making tough decisions, building teams, and balancing the needs of teams and senior management.
If you are an engineering manager, you may have asked your peers and mentors questions regarding giving performance reviews, coding as a manager, and all. This article will answer the Top 5 of those questions engineering managers ask from a Youtube playlist by Ryan Burgess, a Senior Software Engineering Manager at Netflix.
This article will cover:
- Should engineering managers code?
- Why is vulnerability important in managers?
- Should managers measure an engineer’s performance by “number of commits”?
- How do you encourage direct reports to give you feedback?
- When should you be networking for hiring?
1. Should engineering managers code?
No!. Ryan shared that he made the mistake of writing production code and managing his team early in his career as an engineering manager. Saying that engineering managers who try to code actively won’t be successful at either because they will be pulling too many directions.
As an engineering manager, if you are still coding, you might be taking opportunities away from your engineers. And it would be best if you focused on properly delegating development tasks that give your engineers autonomy and ownership of the codebase.
Though Ryan says that engineering managers shouldn’t code, he highlights that they must stay up to date with engineering best practices and be technical leaders.
2. Why is vulnerability important in managers?
As an engineering manager, it is important to be vulnerable and self-reflect. Ryan shared that by reflecting on your own mistakes and sharing them with others, you not only learn from your mistakes, but you help others learn too.
Being vulnerable will help build social connections and trust within your team members as trust removes barriers and allows teams to work collaboratively and help one another.
Lastly, Ryan shared that by practicing vulnerability within his team, his team members saw him as more approachable.
The next time you make a mistake, share it as vulnerability doesn’t mean you’re weak but demonstrates courage to be yourself and encourages others to do the same.
3. Should managers measure an engineer’s performance by “number of commits”?
No. This is a popular question. We’ve seen that many engineering managers are looking for ways to measure the performance of engineers on their teams.
Ryan says that the “number of commits” or “lines of code” should not be a metric that engineering managers use in measuring an engineer’s performance. It is a metric that can be gamed and doesn’t account for the quality of the written code.
Lastly, he highlighted that gamifying metrics could lead to burnout, and it’s better to focus on the outcomes and deliverables of the team as a whole.
4. How do you encourage direct reports to give you feedback?
“Share your weakness.”
“Invite people to give you feedback.”
– Ryan Burgess
All these above make it easy enough for your direct reports to provide you with helpful feedback.
Ryan says that you shouldn’t ask broad questions like “do you have feedback for me?” but specific questions like “do you think I could have done better in that presentation? What could have been better”, doing this gives your direct report time to think through their feedback. And after getting feedback:
- “Thank them for the feedback” and reflect on what they said.
- “Ask follow-up questions to understand it better.”
- “Avoid being defensive”: Even if you disagree with the feedback as getting defensive will quickly prevent that direct report from giving you feedback in the future.
5. When should you be networking for hiring?
Always. Ryan says engineering managers shouldn’t wait for an open role on their team before they start networking. Engineering managers should invest in building a strong network before they need to hire.
Nobody wants to feel like a transaction, and you shouldn’t network just to fill a role. You would want to build strong connections with people and understand how they might be the right fit for your team.
Do you think he didn’t answer some of the questions right? Or do you have a different opinion? Share on the Zumvie Slack Community. Other engineering managers will love to hear your opinion.”