Management 101 for Software Engineers

In today’s tech driven market, the demand for engineering skills is high. Those with computer science degrees and coding skills are being snapped up by the many tech companies in Seattle who rely on these skills. But there is a subset of these engineers even more in demand: engineering managers and team leaders.

Top tech companies need people to lead the teams of engineers who are creating and developing their revenue-driving products. These leaders need two different skill sets: the tech skills to understand to fundamental challenges of building software products and the management skills to build, inspire and lead the teams that create them. 

“Often, companies will promote a senior engineer into a management role and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Being technical is different than being strategic and a great leader of people.  Often things like listening skills, empathy, communication style and coaching skills go overlooked. Just because someone is a great developer doesn’t mean they are a great team leader. But often, there are ways to develop the interpersonal and management skills that can take a developer to management and leadership level. Teams are just made up of people – within teams, there can competition and discord, or there can be collaboration and brainstorming. Some team members are happiest as individual contributors, working alone. Some work better together. A good team leader knows the strengths of team members and makes sure everyone is working according to their strengths, but all the while keeping to a common goal.

Some advice for developers looking to move into management: 

  • Be a great team member. Make sure you’re demonstrating the qualities you’d look for as the leader. Be willing to pitch in and make others work shine. Spend time listening to your co-workers and understand what they are doing and how you can help.
  • Seek out additional training. Self-improvement is a big part of leadership. It can be technical skills, but also things like executive training or mentorship. Show interest in learning skills like managing budgets, or interviewing candidates, or new ways to approach project management. Show you are willing to learn.
  • Focus on improving soft skills. If you’ve been more comfortable with coding and technical challenges than presenting to groups or mentoring interns, seek opportunities to do so. Volunteer to take on an intern or join internal committees that puts you in contact with non-engineers. Many companies have groups that work on workplace events or volunteer opportunities outside of work – these are great places to take on a leadership role and run the company’s food drive, Pride event or even a holiday party. Show you can bring people together to get something done.

While engineers can look for opportunities to gain management skills, employers looking for engineering managers should also think beyond hiring or promoting the best developer into a management role. Sometimes the best leader for the time might not be the best coder, but has the ability to bring people together, can communicate a vision and goals, and knows what it takes to deliver a product on time and on budget. They need to have the technical skills to understand what the team members are doing, but don’t have to be the best engineer. Just like the track coach doesn’t have to be the fastest runner, the leader just needs the skills to bring out the best in each team member. 

At TalentReach, we’re working with some of Seattle’s top tech companies, and we know what it takes to be successful for engineers and for development team leaders. If you’re looking to make a move or are interested in what opportunities are available for you, give us a call. 

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