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The "Management as a Skill" Lesson is part of the full, Engineering Management Fundamentals 101 course featured in this preview video. Here's what you'd learn in this lesson:

Jem emphasizes the importance of learning new skills as a manager, whether one becomes a manager accidentally or deliberately. The lesson also touches on the different stages of skill development, from unconsciously incompetent to unconsciously competent, and the importance of being aware of what one doesn't know. Jem also addresses questions about management courses and team size management.

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Transcript from the "Management as a Skill" Lesson

[00:00:00]
>> The truth is, it doesn't matter if you're accidentally a manager, it doesn't matter if you're deliberately a manager. You're gonna have to learn new skills. It's better to be deliberate cuz you can build those up over time. But either way, you're gonna arrive at the same place.

[00:00:21] I'm trying to think for me, what was it? I tried rock climbing, the first time the other day. I was like, how hard can it be? I work out, I go to the gym, how hard can it be? And I'm tall, I have the extra advantage of doing that.

[00:00:34] And I got up there, I think I muscled my way up instead of using technique and then halfway up, I'm like, I'm so tired. Like, why are my arms are so tired? And I like it, though, it was fine. But that was a new skill for me. And it's good to push yourself.

[00:00:49] Being a manager, you're gonna learn new skills. You're gonna learn things you probably didn't think you had to know, things that are important, things you thought were important or not. And that's part of the purpose of this course, is to show you there's a lot more stuff out there that you probably never thought of.

[00:01:02] And it's good to maybe focus on some of those. And we look at how you learn. We start with unconsciously incompetent, aka, you don't know what you don't know. And that's a lot of what I'm trying to convey today, is I want you to know, to move you into consciously incompetent, to know what you don't know, and that's fine too.

[00:01:27] I don't prefer to wallow in ignorance. I'd rather know what I don't know. But assuming that I know, there's stuff I know, everything that I don't know, no, I learn stuff all the time. Hopefully, when you get good, you move into consciously competent, knowing the things I'm not as great at, things I need to focus on, but things I am good at that I can learn, that I can lean on to help me.

[00:01:50] I can become more conscious about using those skills or building them up. And then over time, you become unconsciously competent. You're good without knowing it. Just like coding, if I said, every one of you, I'd say, hey, file for terminal, create a new create a new program, and then I want you to execute something that's prints out Hello World.

[00:02:07] You all could do that and you won't even think about it. That's unconsciously competent, for us, if I pulled someone random from the street and said, hey, can you fire up a shell and do all these things? They be like, what's a shell? It's skills you build up over time you don't think about.

[00:02:27] Again, the analogy to parenting is, you don't think about walking. You don't think consciously about every step you take, left, right, left, right. You just do it. It's just muscle memory. And that's where you really wanna get in any skill building. It's just, you don't think about how difficult it was.

[00:02:41] But never remember there's people, all the way, who don't know what they don't know. It's always important to remember that. Question.
>> There's a question in chat about, are there companies that at least give some type of management courses or path to going from independent to contributor to management.

[00:03:08] I don't know if management classes are a good way to start, but it seems like it would be.
>> Generally, the bigger the company, the more likely they're gonna have those resources for you. To be fair, I'm not knocking smaller companies. If you're less than, say, I don't know, a thousand engineers, maybe even smaller, you probably aren't gonna have a dedicated training course.

[00:03:31] Cuz there's just not that many engineering management roles that you wanna dedicate enough time to doing that. But generally, larger companies, Google, Meta, Dropbox is a pretty good career framework. Some companies feel they invest in that, some companies don't. And I don't have a comprehensive list of all them.

[00:03:48] But it's something to ask about when you're thinking about this role transition is, what's available to me? Or if you wanna switch companies and you say, remember that previous exercise we talked about what's your five-year goal, what's your ten year goal? When you're switching companies, ask about that.

[00:04:02] What are your career paths? How often do people make this transition? Or, do you only hire people outside to become engineering managers? You probably don't think about that, I didn't. I always thought about, like, how much you pay me, what's the language, maybe what's the domain. You don't think about, like, hey, five years out, where do I wanna be.

[00:04:24] Any questions so far, thoughts?
>> Jim, how many engineers do you manage and how many people do you feel like is unmanageable?
>> Is there a slide on that? I would slide a little bit further down on team size, but right now I manage eight. Which is a good size?

[00:04:51] I think, about 6 to 10, maybe 6 to 12, maybe, if you know what you're doing, is a good size. If you're at 20, it's really difficult to manage 20 people. That's a lot of competing priorities. You're spending a lot of your weekend one-on-ones, most of the time in one-on-ones.

[00:05:09] Team meetings just aren't effective. You ever had a big group of people try to reach consensus on anything? It's never gonna happen.
>> [LAUGH].
>> If we took all of you and said like, hey, what do we want for lunch? We might be able to reach consensus after some debates.

[00:05:22] But the larger the team, the harder it is to pick a firm direction. Yeah, Ryan.
>> This came up earlier in the chat, too, that I think is helpful. Is, it also depends on the level of engineers that you're managing, too. I think the most I've ever had is 18 at one time.

[00:05:41] And it was a lot, but they were all very senior engineers. And so that does help and you can rely on them a little bit to do certain things, maybe lead certain efforts that you're not having to be involved in. What I found really difficult was actually having less direct reports than that, but multiple teams that do completely different things.

[00:06:01] And so you are in multiple team meetings and you're thinking and context switching on different business goals and topics like that. So I think it really depends on what you're doing and what the level of engineers are on the team.
>> Yeah, spoken like a senior manager.
>> [LAUGH]

[00:06:19]
>> The answer is, a lot of stuff, it depends, just like as a senior engineer, the answer to a lot of questions depends. For me personally, yeah, I manage about eight people. Most of them are very, very senior. I have one early career man or software engineer, which is great too.

[00:06:35] Totally different perspective, totally different needs in how I show up for them. And my team is, it's kind of two teams. I guess I can do more background. So, I managed the web platform team for Netflix. So netflix.com is actually a collection of applications. And my team owns a platform that powers all those applications that run on top of those.

[00:06:59] Hence, there's a lot of teams that use our products, other engineers, and there's a lot of things to keep in mind. But that's half my team, half my team, very, very broad. We cover games, streaming, signup, registration, etc. So, challenges there, really, really broad and really deep on the technology stack.

[00:07:19] And then the other team I manage is kind of the data abstraction team. For growth. Essentially, growth is kind of a non-member. If you're not a member of Netflix, you need to log in, pay, pick a plan, all these other things. We manage all the data for that side as well.

[00:07:34] So, totally different perspective, totally different platforms we have to support. And I do both with, not a lot of people. And we do that cuz they're very, very talented. Very talented. But it does mean I've stretched a lot tactically and just timewise. But the truth is like Ryan was saying, every team is gonna be different.

[00:07:55] Every team is gonna have its own challenges. When I first took on the role, I complained about it. I'm like, I have a lot to do, and I own a lot, but not enough people. But like, you will learn that's always the case. You never have enough people.

[00:08:09] And there's nothing you can do about that. It's a business decision sometimes and you just have to live with it. And I managed and we've done really well with the resource we have. We've excelled, and I can look back and say that. But in the moment, I was just like, there's so much to do, so much to learn.

[00:08:24] We own so many services and systems and processes, etc. But I felt it wasn't super helpful. It wasn't getting us anywhere, me complaining about it. So I just accepted it and moved on, and we're doing really well now. But we still own too much, [LAUGH] in my opinion.

[00:08:40] But that's a business thing.