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An Engineer in Management (Tales from the Dark Side)

02.15.2012
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How does a Software Engineer deal with a "promotion" to a management position?

First, you ask yourself if you really want to do it.

There is really no point in accepting the position if you believe you will perform poorly. Keeping in mind the Peter Principle, a good way to start is to reflect over all the negative things from the managers you worked with, that bugged you and your fellow engineers the most.  At the very least you want to try to avoid repeating the same mistakes.

Here are some of the annoying things you might want to consider working on:

  • Poor communication skills : from yelling ( makes you look weak ) to being unable to explain decisions that were made (makes you look incompetent).
  • Poor leadership: taking personal credit for the team's success, blaming the team and everybody but yourself for not delivering on time.
  • Tendency to micro-manage : not giving us trust, some autonomy and latitude, so we can do our job better.
  • Ignoring suggestions. If our ideas have no merit, take the time to explain why. If you are incapable of doing so, you shouldn't be our manager.
  • Unfair treatment:  treating some employees better than others, blaming us for something we had nothing to do with, etc..

 

Not surprisingly, the handful of good managers have none of the above symptoms, au contraire. I said handful, and this is A Good Thing, because it means that you have a shot at being better at the job than many others. So keeping those mentioned shortcomings in mind and avoiding them puts you half-way there already.

But only half-way.

In particular, you now must also deal directly with the people above you, the upper managers,  and the world of RealPolitik.  Once you become a Manager, odds are, you will have to deal with it in a much greater scale than in your past engineering life (which you will miss badly at times)...Just how much politics you have to deal with is often difficult to anticipate at the moment you accept the position. Here are a few suggestions, learned in part from my own mistakes:

  • You are always negotiating, even when you think you aren't. Read some good paper on the art of negotiation.
  • Presentation is key. Dress as they dress, sharpen your PowerPoint skills, and start smiling a lot for no apparent reason.
  • More than ever, be flexible with your ideas. Don't be a "Taliban", no matter how right you may think you are.
  • Be informed of, and anticipate the power shifts happening inside the company. Try forging alliances to protect yourself.
  • Learn a minimum of Managerial Speak : "reaching out", "empowering", "value-added", "stakeholder community", "geosourcing", etc...it's useful drivel.

 

Doing your job well is still the most effective way you can protect yourself. Sadly, that won't always be enough where politics take precedence over individual competency and results.

 

 From Tony's Blog 

Published at DZone with permission of Tony Siciliani, author and DZone MVB.

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)

Comments

Lund Wolfe replied on Sun, 2012/02/19 - 3:15pm

I think you got some of the points but they really fall under a more general purpose.  Your job as manager, whether you are technical yourself or not, is to defend and enable your developers so they can do their jobs.  This will get their respect, gratitude, and performance, which is how you will be rated by your manager.

Some companies split management and technical into separate hierarchies.  If this is the case, you may be very unhappy not doing what you enjoy every day.  Horror stories abound.  If you can and want to do both, you just need to determine if you can juggle both duties (or maybe you can do more of one and less of the other).

If you aren't comfortable with the company's politics/values, then being a manager is probably out of the question.  

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