90 days as Engineering Manager
From a Developer to Manager - My first 90 days
On January 1st, I started as an Engineering Manager (EM) after a few years of being an Individual Contributor (IC). This blog post highlights my learnings throughout the first 90 days.
When I got asked if I wanted to become an EM of one of the core teams in LeanIX EAM Engineering, I felt uncertain whether I was ready for the EM role. I found the experience as an EM both fun and challenging. After 90 days, it is time for a first recap. It allowed me to learn a lot already, while I sometimes found myself pushed to my limits.
Here are some key insights about what was fun and which challenges I faced during the first 90 days.
The fun part
In the new team, I can work with many new nice and talented people. At first, it is great to have the opportunity to change your role and team within the same company. After two and a half years in the same team, it feels like starting a new job while staying in the same environment.
The year started smoothly, everyone was excited, and I was really motivated to push and move ahead. This was a great feeling, after having some trouble finding motivation in a work environment I was not fully happy with anymore.
Fully packed with motivation, I already had my first growth-opportunity in my second week: Welcoming and onboarding a new-joiner to the team. We used this situation to run a team workshop about values. This helped us to get to know each other on a more personal level. The day ended with a nice indoor mini-golf adventure and dinner. I'm impressed by the notable impact that just one day of enjoyable activities, friendly competitions, and casual conversations outside of work can have on each team member's morale and connection.
I thoroughly enjoy taking on challenges, and this role switch certainly presents one. Likewise, I've encountered various new topics that I continue to navigate. Firstly, I returned to primarily focusing on Java backend development after two years of Frontend (FE) development in typescript. Secondly, I transitioned to a different domain within our application, which I haven't worked on in four years. Lastly, I've embarked on an entirely new role, accompanied by novel responsibilities and tasks.
I could see how my motivation pushed me again to work on all and everything, which might not be the best idea. I was super excited to start with the new team and change the world.
While all these things sound extremely delightful, high expectations from myself and a bunch of challenges made the transition an intense learning experience. Let's go through them one-by-one and digest their main learnings.
As already mentioned, I was super motivated and excited to dig through everything. Quickly, I recognized that it was not easy jumping into a team that has been working together for years. As it is one of the core teams, I found a huge backlog in place, the team worked together and lived their processes for years already. What I underestimated was the fact that I came from an entirely different domain. It is challenging to dig into a new domain, while simultaneously living up to my expectation to converse and argue about changes to it. My unrealistic expectation was to prioritize tasks while trying fully to understand the system itself.
Moreover, I lacked code base knowledge. I worked in the services years ago already, but during my absence it evolved and changed a lot. So, it felt like a new service for me, which I have to handle again. This taught me that I need to involve my team in all these discussions and planning, as they know the domain already. I will also expand on this in the tips section.
Next to the regular challenges you face as an IC as well, when you change a team, I now had seven direct reports I am responsible for. Right from the get go administrative responsibilities culminated in sick leaves, managing vacations and other personal issues. Handling all these new challenges without formal training would not have been possible without the support of a great EM team, especially my previous team's EM, and my direct manager. Their help allowed me to survive and navigate through these new tasks.
One of the most challenging things was me. I put my expectations really high in the beginning and thought I will be able to directly work as an IC as well as a manager. The reality looked entirely different. In the first three months I had no day of focused coding, I just did some small reviews, and here and there one hour bug fixes. Which resulted in a huge frustration and I already asked myself if this was the right decision. This learning was the best, to understand that this transition is a journey and not a sprint you can achieve in two weeks.
If you get the opportunity of becoming an EM in your company, and you like leading people, you should try it. Therefore, I come up with five tips, which helped me to wrap my head around the new situation and do not throw it away after the first obstacle.
5 Tips for new EMs
There are five tips, I would like to share with you to make the transition into any managing role much smoother.
1. Have a mentor
Having one or more individuals in a comparable position (such as a director or senior engineering manager) with significantly more experience in your new role can be incredibly beneficial. This mentorship enables you to openly discuss and ask numerous questions regarding unfamiliar situations or concerns that may arise. It's important to find someone with whom you can candidly share your thoughts, ideas, fears, challenges, and inquiries.
This provides you the opportunity to learn things, clear your mind and put topics in the right context or give them the right weight.
For me, it was really helpful to have a close connection and mentorship with my manager; he gave me a lot of trust and a clear view of expectations from the company. These were really helpful to calm down and accept, that not everything works from the beginning. With these conversations, I was able to adjust my own expectations to a realistic minimum, which directly relieved myself and brought a lot of fun back while working.
2. Have 1:1s with your predecessor
It always helps to have an ongoing exchange with the previous manager (if possible). They can provide you with information, tips about your team members you might never find out from themselves. You gain a fresh perspective on the subjects at hand and can learn more about the individuals you manage. While this doesn't negate the need for getting to know your direct reports personally, it can aid you in evaluating your own thoughts and opinions in relation to theirs.
3. Clear scope and personal goals
When I started, I was fully overwhelmed with the number of topics, issues, potentially important things I wanted to work on. I sat down with my mentor and sketched out a clear scope to prioritize the most important tasks to work on. This was another lesson, which helped me to adjust my self expectations and understand that I cannot achieve and do everything right away.
In contrast to the scope, which is more tailored to the teams' needs, goals should only aim at your personal growth. Within our Career Development Dialogues, I set some goals with my manager, namely what I aim to achieve during the next quarter. You can create a similar process on your own, if your company does not offer one already. Setting regular goals for yourself, and continuously re-evaluating them, might help you to stay on track and prioritize your responsibilities.
4. Set a timeframe
Set yourself a minimal timeframe to try out the new position. The responsibilities as an EM might be drastically different from your former work as an IC, so evaluating it over a pre-defined horizon can help to endure more challenging times. It is vital to communicate these expectations, as well as the time frame, with your support group (manager/director/EM).
5. Involve your new team
For me, it helped a lot to clarify from the beginning, that I am new in this job and not everything will be perfect. Actively ask your team for open feedback and support on all the topics you cannot manage yet. Use your lack of knowledge, and allow yourself to delegate more. Involve team members in discussions about subjects you may not be well-versed in yet. This not only empowers your team members, but also assists you in leading the team effectively, even if you haven't fully grasped the entire project scope. Additionally, you directly learn one of the most important skills a manager should have - being able to let go and delegate.
My first 90 days as an EM have been both enjoyable and challenging. The leadership team has provided remarkable support as I transitioned into this new role, with even our CTO taking a personal interest in my progress and offering ongoing assistance. I'm grateful that LeanIX fosters an excellent engineering culture that encourages the growth of emerging talent. Already, I've experienced significant personal and professional development, but I will continue to assess whether management is the right path for me, or if I need more time to nurture others' growth.
Regardless of my current role, I believe it's crucial to challenge oneself and regularly re-evaluate one's work to maintain a sense of enjoyment and fulfillment. For me, job satisfaction comes first, while financial rewards are secondary. I plan to revisit my decision to continue as an EM at least once a year, but I will also reflect on my choices every quarter, asking myself, "Is this the right path?"
I'm genuinely grateful for the chance to embark on this new journey and the trust placed in me as a young IC to take on a managerial role in one of the core teams.
If you have the opportunity to become a manager and are interested in the experience, don't hesitate to seize it. This role will expand your horizons and offer significant growth potential for your future career, even if you eventually return to an IC role.
Published by Nikolas Rist
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