Surviving Your First Ninety Days as an Engineering Manager

This is the third of a twelve-part series covering the sessions from Calibrate, an engineering leadership conference held September, 2015 in San Francisco.

David Loftesness, former Director of Engineering at Twitter, started by asking, “Prior to becoming an engineering manager, how many of you have received any formal management training?”

Crickets. Next to no hands went up.

As someone who recently transitioned into engineering management with no prior management training, I was excited when I first uncovered Loftesness’ 90-day plan for new engineer managers. Here are a few key learnings I wish I had read back on day 0 when I was just starting in management.

Month 1: Own Your Education

Loftesness recommends that in the first thirty days of transitioning to an engineering manager, you should own your education. Block off time in your calendar to study how to be a great manager.

Put this study time on your calendar so the rest of your team can see that you’re spending time trying to develop your skills. At Sharethrough, we realized that there was very little content out there for engineers transitioning into management. Calibrate was a great way to bring engineering leaders into the same room to talk about a little discussed topic.

Month 2: Find A Rhythm

Now that I’d been a manager for more than thirty days, I knew that my daily routine should get away from writing code. This was a challenge — writing code is comfortable; something I enjoy; something I’m good at.

When I had any doubt as to what I should be doing, writing code seemed like the best use of my time. I felt like that was my best way to contribute: I could see my output and feel like I accomplished something when I left at the end of the day. However, Loftesness suggests, “For a manager, reading code is significantly more important than writing it.”

Month 3: Assess Yourself

During the first several months, it was hard for me to gauge my success each day. I was used to measuring my own success by the number of bugs I squashed, or the number of stories I completed per day. I needed to find a new set of metrics to measure my own success and progress.

As David remarks, there is no "morale-o-meter”. It’s hard to measure that morale is up 10% month-over-month. My manager helped me realize that I should gauge my success and effectiveness each day on how productive and successful my team was. Looking at my day with this lens, I can leave work each day with a sense of accomplishment by measuring the effectiveness and efficiency of my team’s progress.

In order to make your team more effective, Loftesness recommends focusing on each team member’s strengths. Focus on areas where each engineer is strong and make them exceptional. You’ll see greater gains from this effort than if you focused on areas in which an engineer is weak and try to make them better. Recognize their talents and let them flourish.

Month 10

I’ve been a manager for 308 days, and as a manager I’m still learning how to improve. Loftesness’ full talk and other excellent engineering leadership talks from Calibrate are great resources for you to lean on so you can level up as a manager.