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On March 1st, 2022 I started as an engineering manager. In this blog post, I’m going to retrospect my first year as an engineering manager. What did I learn, what mistakes did I make, and do I regret it?
11 months ago I wrote, 3 Lessons in my first month as an engineering manager. And if I look back on that period, I feel that post was written way too soon. In the first month, I had no idea what was coming. At the time my wife was pregnant with our twin boys, and was expected to deliver soon-ish. At the time I started with 3 teams primarily in India, and knew up front I would skip the performance review cycle as I was probably on maternity leave.
My sons were born on the 14th of May after my wife and I spent almost a week in the hospital. Due to some new regulations on paternity leave, I could take almost 8 weeks of paternity leave! And after I came back everything changed. They hired another engineering manager, and I got more reports and different teams. I went from reports that were primarily in India to almost all Dutch reports. And I clearly noticed the period before my leave was seen as “getting up to speed”.
Management is lonely
In the previous 7 years, I was always in a team. Folks you speak with every day, share struggles with, and celebrate successes with. Until one day, you are the manager of your folks. Relationships change. Previously the micromanager was your shared frustration. But now one of you might be the new frustration.
If you had a rude customer on support rotation you could vent to your teammates. But how do you vent if you had the worst 1:1 meeting where you gave a report some feedback that completely backfired?
Management is lonely. You will no longer be in the tight team you once were. All the reasons to build yourself a support team. Find some other like-minded managers in your company and go for some coffee chats.
Finding your rhythm
Another downside of no longer being in a team is that you lose all forms of structure your day had. You no longer have your regular dailies or refinements. Your calendar will mostly be up to you to fill. And for me that “carte blanche” was difficult to fill.
I would find myself working on the day-to-day incidents, and had trouble making time for deep work and strategic thinking. After a few weeks of struggling, and receiving feedback that I could lead more projects, I knew I had to change some things.
There is no silver bullet for all managers, but what worked for me is:
- At the start of each day, I have a meeting to set my goals for the day
- I scheduled several recurring “blocks” in my calendar for deep work
- Be offline during deep work
Get comfortable with being uncomfortable
As a manager, you will be constantly placed in situations that are new. And that is hard. People now look to you to lead when there is a problem that you never had before. Being forced outside of your comfort zone is challenging.
The bad news is that this will keep happening. There will always be new things where you need to step up. There will be times that you mess up, and there will be times that it goes great. But there will always be a next time when you have to do something you have not done before.
Keep in mind that you grow as a person by doing things outside of your comfort zone. If I can look back at my first year as an engineering manager I have done several things I would not have expected before.
In my first week alone I had to show up for a meeting to explain an outage we had to one of the board members of our parent company. I had tough conversations with reports. Stood up for my teams, and many more.
Do I regret it?
I do not recommend anyone having twins and getting a promotion at the same time. But If I look past the sleepless nights and lack of energy. I would do it again.
I discovered I really enjoy coaching people and helping them improve. It’s such an energy booster to see someone you coached in their 1:1’s, change their behavior, and develop themselves.
A nice added bonus is that by moving up the corporate ladder your voice will be heard much easier. This increase in leverage is something I can use to further implement improvements all across the board!
Before you leave
Overall my first year as a manager has been a bit of a struggle. Sure I enjoy it, but it was quite the change. For anyone thinking about going into management, I have one piece of advice. Consider it a career change, not a step up.
If you liked this post, I can recommend the following posts as well:
- The 4 lessons I learned as a starting Scrum master
- 3 Lessons into my first month as an Engineering manager
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