Engineering Management Fundamentals 101

Roles Engineering Managers Play

Jem Young

Jem Young

Engineering Management Fundamentals 101

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The "Roles Engineering Managers Play" 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 discusses the different roles that an engineering manager may have to play, and these roles are not predefined. Some of the roles were coach, cheerleader, therapist, mentor, peacemaker, speaker of the house, lawyer, and partner. The speaker emphasizes that it is impossible to be good at all these roles and encourages acceptance of one's strengths and weaknesses while striving to improve.


Transcript from the "Roles Engineering Managers Play" Lesson

>> And on the people side, let's talk about some of the roles that you have to play as an engineering manager. And these are all roles that I've played, and there's more, and I definitely want to hear if you all can think of more. Sometimes you're the coach, sometimes I'm coaching people, calling players on the side.

And I really like the coach metaphor, because I'm not playing the game. I'm an expert at the game. I know the plays, I know what it looks like, I know different scenarios, but I'm not actually playing the game. And it doesn't matter which sport you're thinking of in your head.

The coach is on the side. Sometimes, they gotta be tough with the people. Sometimes they gotta be like, you did really well there. And that's a lot of what what you do as an engineering manager. Sometimes you're just a cheerleader. The team is functioning. They don't need you.

They don't need to listen to you. In fact, if I was saying anything, it would actually pull them away from what they are doing well. If, again, pick any sport, if the team's doing well, I don't need to be on the like, do this, do that, because they're already functioning well, and sometimes I'm just a cheerleader.

Good job. Way to go, team. Keep going, I just wanna keep them going, but t I don't actually need to do anything. Sometimes, I'm a therapist. You get to know your team, you talk about personal problems, you talk about things they don't share with other people. Sometimes your job is to listen and provide sometimes life advice.

Sometimes I mentor. Now, what should I do in the situation? Okay, here's what I would do or here's, here's some approaches I would take. I won't go through all these, but there's a lot of roles that you will play as an engineering manager. And what role that is, I'll tell you a secret.

No one tells you what you need to do. You have to figure that out. You have to figure out what you need to be in that situation. Is this the time to be a peacemaker if people are arguing about something? You need to step in with a firm hand and say, hey, I bet you, you let's come together and figure this out.

Or sometimes you need to say, you know what, we spent three months arguing on this. Here's what we're going to do, and that's that. And let's move forward. Speaker of the House, I like this one. The Speaker of the House is the, for those of you familiar with politics, you're the tiebreaker sometimes.

And that's sometimes what you have to do. But also you represent your team, your organization to directors, and VPs, and even the executives sometimes. You speak for an entire group of people. That's something you'll do in your role as an engineering manager. Can you all think of any other roles that an engineering manager might play?

>> I felt like sometimes similar to a salesperson or speaker is like lawyer, you're like arguing a defense for a certain architecture or path forward.
>> Well, I like that, yeah.
>> I think the engineering manager that had the biggest impact on me, he would just listen to everyone with a non-judgmental perspective and then from there make decisions, some of these roles and what not.

He always felt like he was playing an impartial role until the decision needed to be made and that left a drastic impact on me. It was the best place to work cuz you always seemed to know what the next step was or whatever, or how to resolve something or whatever.

>> Yeah, that's a good one. That's one of the hardest things you'll do, one of the hardest roles you'll play, is to do nothing. It's to sit back and do nothing, because the temptation is always to interject yourself, or say something. And sitting back and say, okay, tell me more, and not responding.

Or just asking the right questions, is one of the most difficult things you'll do. And it doesn't sound like it's hard, but It is something I still work on. I like to talk, I like to say, here's what you should do. And I have a bias to action, which is good sometimes, but a lot of times you just have to listen.

So it's a good one, Mark. Ryan, [INAUDIBLE] something.
>> Yeah, I think also another role you play as a partner, right? Like you're working very closely with other teams and bridging the gap, connecting dots. So that's another thing is you're a partner with other teams.
>> Yeah, that's a great one.

There's very few of one software engineering team at a company. There's always probably another team, and you have to be that bridge between teams to share their perspective, but to understand what they're doing and translate that to your team as well. Partner is a great one, yeah. There's probably more.

I think if we thought about longer and the people that have impacted you both positively and negatively in your career, you'll probably see what role were they playing in that moment. And the truth is what makes engineering management difficult or challenging is like you will not be good at all these things.

You can't be good at all these things. No one is good at all these things, it's impossible. You have a personality, you have a bias towards certain styles of interaction communication, you have a different background, you can't be good all these things. And I say this now, and I'm telling my past self and my future self to be okay with that.

Understand what you're good at, but don't don't bias too much towards doing that, like I have a bias to action. That doesn't mean we should always be doing something. It doesn't mean we should always be like, yeah, great idea, let's do it. Sometimes you got to stop and think.

Some things I'm really good at, and there's others that are definitely not as strong and it's good to recognize both and know when to play these parts. But I tell you this now, if you make this transition to engineering management, you will not be good at every role.

And just, you accept it and you try to fix it, you work it as best you can, but no one's good at everything.

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