The demand for software engineering managers has never been higher. With all this demand, you might think there is an abundance of qualified managers out there who can take on these roles. Unfortunately, it is not as simple as that.
There are many challenges facing today's IT leaders when it comes to finding strong manager candidates with experience managing a variety of technical projects from start-to-finish. It takes time and effort to find someone with both the right skillset and cultural fit for your company culture.
In this article, we will look at what the engineering manager role is, the typical responsibilities, what makes a good engineering manager, how to level up your career from an engineer to engineering manager and tips to attracting strong candidates
Who is a Software Engineering Manager?
A Software Engineering Manager or just engineering manager is a professional who supervises a group of software engineers that perform design, software development, testing and developing applications. This role is sometimes called application development manager or just development manager.
As an engineering manager, you will develop strategies and design plans for completing a software project while ensuring everyone in your team achieves their goals. For this, you need to keep a constant tab on the programming updates from your team and solve any issues that come up.
Most importantly, the engineering manager role demands excellent people management skills. You are responsible for creating a healthy working environment for your team. Plus, you are required to act as a two-way communication bridge. You need to hold meetings with your seniors to share project updates and talk to customers to understand their requirements.
What Does a Software Engineering Manager Do?
A software engineer manager's job is to oversee the team involved in designing, developing, testing & managing software applications. This role needs to be able to attract and hire talent, develop strategies, architectures and designs, produce progress reports, monitor the documentation process, and evaluate and continuously improve your team’s performance.
As an engineering manager, your primary role is to mentor your team and ensure that project completion within the timeframe, resources, and allocated budget.
Typical responsibilities of a good engineering manager will include -
Guide & supervise the end-to-end engineering efforts across multiple teams while leaning on the tech leads for day to day operations of the individual teams
Design and lead the development of technology solutions that meet customer’s expectations
Provide mentorship to the team and build a healthy, supportive environment that promotes innovation and growth
Effectively craft & communicate feedback to the team while coaching them to improve their technology & soft skills.
Assist the executive leadership in building realistic plans to execute business strategy
Collaborate with other internal organizations to build cohesive solutions rather than silos
In a modern, agile enterprise environment, engineering managers may be required to play the role of enterprise or solution architects.
Oversee and mentor, groom the tech leads to be the next generation of engineering leaders.
Be a champion for their teams
What Are The Skills Required To Become A Software Engineering Manager?
Engineering managers need to possess, acquire & grow a broad set of skills (both technical as well as soft) to be effective in their role.
An engineering manager spends very little time doing hands-on coding or software development work. Nonetheless, the engineering manager’s role is to manage a team of software engineers, and therefore, software programming knowledge is a must. Depending on the teams they are managing and the technology stack involved, engineering managers may need to be well-versed with one or more programming languages & paradigms such as Java, .NET, ReactJs, NodeJS, various Cloud services, language specific frameworks, modern software development methodologies such as agile.
Technology is evolving like never before. Companies, large and small, are migrating to the cloud, and technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and blockchain are being adopted voraciously by organizations trying to innovate in today’s business environment.
To put things into perspective, in the last decade, around 81% of companies have moved at least one application of their computing infrastructure in the cloud. Also, thanks to the emerging use cases of AI, hiring in the AI domain has increased significantly in the past few years. Talking about blockchain, industry leaders like Amazon, BMW, Google, and HSBC among others are spending on developing and leveraging blockchain technology.
Keeping these trends in mind, a good software engineering manager must have a good conceptual understanding of cloud infrastructure, blockchain, and other modern technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning. Managers don’t need to have deep mastery in any of these, however, they should be aware of the possibilities that these technologies offer and which one can be applied in what context.
The engineering manager's job is to be able to balance the needs of engineering and management. This can be a difficult task because engineering managers, who typically start as engineers and rise up the rank to be a "manager", need to acquire and hone soft skills that make an effective engineering manager.
We will discuss 5 important soft skills that engineering managers should possess in order for their team to succeed: communication, empathy, conflict resolution, time management and flexibility.
Engineering managers need to communicate well with team members and stakeholders. They must be able to clearly articulate the engineering manager's vision in a way that is meaningful for engineers on their teams, as well as those outside of engineering who are involved or interested in engineering work. Engineering managers should also have excellent communication skills when it comes to conflict resolution or when engineering managers need to provide feedback.
Engineering managers must be able to identify and understand the emotions of others in order for them to tackle conflict resolution effectively. This helps engineering managers to understand the engineering team's needs and motivations.
Empathy is also important to engineering management because it helps engineering managers remember and communicate to their teams that that manager may not always be right, which can lower resistance from engineering teams when decisions need to be made.
Engineering managers have the responsibility to be able to identify and resolve conflicts that arise as quickly as possible. Conflicts could be within the team or between other teams within the organization. It can be challenging for engineers on a team to produce results if the engineering manager doesn't have good conflict resolution skills because without the manager to resolve conflicts, the teams may end up debating contentious points for longer than necessary or even stalemate.
Engineering managers, because of the nature of their role, will typically always have many balls in the air. Improving time management skills is essential for engineering managers to avoid feeling overwhelmed by work or stress. Without improving time management skills, engineering managers will not be able to prioritize and be effective at their role.
Engineering managers must be able to adapt not just themselves but also their teams to change in order to produce the desired business results. Engineering management requires a high degree of flexibility because technology projects can take unexpected twists and turns that might require on-the-fly adjustments.
How much do Software Engineering Managers make?
According to Glassdoor, the average base salary of a Software Engineer Manager in 2021 is $165,302 per year in the United States. At Google, the average software engineering manager's salary is estimated to be around $203,394. On the other hand, Twitter pays around $193,182 to its engineering managers. In addition to these base salaries, most of these tech product companies rewards employees with their company stock which is very commonly 100% or even more of their base salary
Growing into an Engineering Manager role
Before we look at how developers can grow into managerial roles, let's address the following question -
Do I have to become a manager to grow in my career?
You DO not have to take on managerial responsibility in order to grow in your career as a software technologist. This is in contrast to most careers where growth equates to taking on more managerial responsibilities. Career paths such as architecture and integration specialists along with the rise of cloud computing paradigms have created considerable opportunities for software engineers to progress without taking on a management role.
How to grow from a developer into an Engineering manager role
Software engineering managers often have more opportunities for growth, which is why software engineers are often drawn to the role. For example, SEMs can be promoted into other managerial positions such as software engineer and CTO--they're also eligible for bonuses or promotions based on their leadership skills too.
Software engineers are in high demand, and the best ones have an eye on their future.
How do you go from being a software developer to becoming a development manager?
Here are some tips for developers that are aspiring engineering managers
Start taking more responsibility
Once you start looking closely at your job with the intention of moving up, you will start seeing plenty of opportunities to proactively take on more responsibility. It doesn't have to be some big new project. You might, for example, volunteer to start making some of your team's presentations and take over one or more roles in meetings.
Start mentoring others
If you want to be seen as someone with the potential to take on management responsibilities, then start giving back. Find a colleague who could use some help and mentor them on the topics that they need guidance with.
It's not just about what skills you can teach either - by helping your colleagues succeed at their jobs, you're also building goodwill and proving your leadership qualities.
Know your "Why"
Knowing why you want to be a development manager is the first step in knowing how to become one. It's important that the reason is something that motivates you and keeps you learning and engaged.
What are some reasons for wanting to be a manager?
Do you want more money or influence so that your impact can extend beyond your current team? Do you want power? Whatever the reason, be sure it motivates you enough to keep learning and keep engaging with your work.
Be proactive about your career development
It's important to proactively seek out mentors and opportunities that will help develop you as a manager. You might start by looking for guidance from other experienced leaders in your organization. At the same time, it is usually a good idea to spend some time looking for mentors externally.
It's best to identify your strengths and match them with the ideal qualities of a development manager. It also pays to know what skills you may need to improve upon in order for you to advance your managerial role.
Take some time to consciously identify your weaknesses. These might be skills like negotiation or managing others that are crucial in management roles but where you're currently lacking expertise. Then build-out plans on how you can start developing these skills over the next few months.
If you're working in a large organization, keep an eye on internal opportunities for growth.
These might be opportunities for roles that are typically done by someone of higher rank and responsibility. Internal mobility is usually encouraged at large organizations and can be rewarding if you target the right roles at the right time in your career with the organization.
Focus on continuous learning
In today's fast-paced, ever-changing, volatile world, continuous learning is important for any professional to thrive in their career.
Continuous learning is about finding opportunities to develop new knowledge and skills that will allow you to improve yourself as a professional or take on more responsibility in the future.
The need for continuous learning shouldn't just be a concern of an aspiring manager - it should be the concern of every individual irrespective of their current position. This is especially true for technology-heavy roles such as developers or development managers because the technology and skills required in these roles are always evolving.
Hone your soft skills
One of the most important parts of growing into a managerial role is developing the necessary soft skills. It's these skills that will help you get ahead in your career if you want to grow from a development position to a management position.
Soft skills include things like communication, negotiation, and management of others - all key skills for managers.
It's important to consciously work on developing this domain of your professional skills because it can take more time to improve than other domains such as knowledge or expertise in a particular programming language.
The development of soft skills can often be a long-term endeavor and one that requires conscious effort to achieve meaningful progress - but this is important if you want to grow from software developer to development manager.
Learn and demonstrate managerial qualities
Developing skills such as negotiation, management of staff, developing and communicating broader vision, and communication are key qualities for a manager.
Another important quality is the ability to work on multiple tasks at once and organize your time so that it's not clear which task you're currently working on. This helps those in managerial positions manage their own workload better as well as carve out time for items their team needs help with
Take on projects that you know will be challenging to help grow your skills.
Spend time with managers and other development managers in the company to learn how they do their job. Inquire about opportunities for advancement within the company, including promotion from developer to manager or leadership roles like project management positions.