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A Modern View on an Engineering Manager’s Responsibilities – It’s Harder Than It Looks

May 11th, 2021
Engineering leaders
Engineering Manager
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Meetings, daily standups, reports, hiring interviews. And most of all, people: software engineers, managers, product leaders, directors. If you just started as a software engineering manager (or want to apply for engineering manager jobs) that’s how your schedule looks like. 

That’s a lot to learn and balance at the same time. Especially the “people” part. Which is usually what makes a software engineering manager’s responsibilities harder than it looks on paper. But we’ll get back to that soon.

However, it is a transformational experience. And, as soon as you know what you’re getting into, what is expected from you and how to pave your way through the challenges, you’ll already be one step ahead. 

The truth is (or actually, two truths):

With the second part, a Development Analytics tool like Waydev could be quite helpful from day 0 with comprehensive data for engineering managers. Our tool measures engineers’ performance and tracks goals and projects, to get you visibility into engineering work and understand the alignment with business goals.

Now, let’s dive into the thrills and spills of engineering manager roles and responsibilities today, starting with the basics.

Software Engineering Manager Roles and Responsibilities: What Does An Engineering Manager Do?

What an engineering manager does is to direct, plan and coordinate activities, while supervising a team of engineers. It’s juggling people management, project management and technical knowledge to deliver the right product, the right way.

And is quite like product development—you do need to know the specs well (duties), build a roadmap (planning and scheduling), negotiate and allocate resources (people, budgets, tools), make sure the result (tracked performance) meets the specific client’s needs (company’ business goals), debug and update (unblock and support engineers), and manage development teams.   

Here’s an overview of the most common tasks and duties that usually come with the software engineering management job:

Engineering manager responsibilities will change significantly as the company grows and takes on new responsibilities.

Remember that no one is born a manager. Becoming an engineering manager is a 100% learned role that requires effort, empathy and continuous learning to be a good software manager, day after day.

If you want to be one step ahead right from the start, adopting an Agile data-driven approach will go a long way. By tracking your team’s performance, you enable engineers’ autonomy, productivity and motivation in a healthier work environment. 

Waydev has already helped 1000+ engineering manager leaders worldwide by analyzing the codebase, PRs, and tickets to improve engineers’ work and start making objective decisions based on data, not hunches.

“Pie of Duty”: A Day in the Life of an Engineering Manager, Today

Whether you’re leading a small team of junior engineers working on projects from scratch, or a large team working on projects with years of legacy code, your role is less about specific job tasks and more about these responsibilities: communicating with other human beings, catering to stakeholders’ needs and engineering goals, managing the team for performance. 

These are all part of day-to-day engineering management. But how can these responsibilities integrate with an engineering manager job description? Because it’s harder than it looks.  

Well, good thing that we’re engineers and managers working for engineers and their managers, looking to solve their biggest problems today, here at Waydev

We’ve built Waydev as a single app for the three aspects of software development: code reports, code review metrics, and project management benchmarks, necessary for successful data-driven leadership. 

The thing is, we wouldn’t have gotten this far if we hadn’t worked alongside hundreds of engineering managers. Thanks to their input, we now have a modern view of a typical day in the life of a software engineering manager’s responsibilities.

And according to them, the core areas that you will spend your time on are:

1. Daily Stand-ups

A typical day starts with a daily standup to get an accurate view of your team’s output, strong communication skills, and support engineers in doing their tasks without friction.

This is an important part of your day as a software engineering manager. It allows you to learn quickly about each individual’s status, as well as about potential blockers and problems they face. 

Then, you can start thinking how to fix these issues, finding solutions together and delegating tasks to ensure better coordination. 

Daily stand-ups allow you to keep meetings at a minimum because engineers often see meetings as unnecessary interruptions in their daily work. By having agile-driven stand-ups, on the other hand, you can better promote team communication. Organizing a better workflow by encouraging collaboration actually frees up the engineering team.

Apart from daily stand-ups, you’ll have regular sprint kickoffs and retrospectives that are equally important.

Turn daily stand-ups into agile-driven conversations based on objective data. With Waydev, you get a complete visibility of your engineers’ output and work habits, without hindering them. 

2. Unblocking the Team

Most engineering managers are still, well, engineers at heart—only now, they get to take up technical challenges and solve problems through others. So your primary responsibility is helping your people succeed at their tasks. 

You do that by scheduling enough time to be available for them, and also by trying to fix those issues that keep software developers blocked, frustrated and unproductive. 

Sometimes, it means pairing engineers stuck with a technical issue; collaborating with a product manager to prevent or eliminate a roadblock or get a clear understanding of what needs to be built next (unblocking the team is also about collaborating with other leaders).  

Keeping the team on track requires you to prevent issues from happening and keep engineers unhindered by any unnecessary, endless meeting that can disrupt their entire day. 

Part of your job is also about planning the workload for everyone—not too much to burn them out, but enough to motivate them to become better and happier. And you have to clearly communicate the direction on their assigned tasks, be there to encourage them when your engineers need it—and learn when to stay low (when they don’t need help).

3. Meetings With Peers and Stakeholders

Meetings are a big part of your days as the engineering manager, as the interface between engineers, other teams and stakeholders. 

Oftentimes, you will get to:

And it’s good to be prepared. Whether it’s about accessible executive reports on resource planning, project costs and timelines, or benchmarking to better focus on decisions, Waydev brings the data you need to support your story in front of the stakeholders. Learn how it works.

4. One-on-Ones

One of the most enjoyable parts of the day for many software engineer manager is holding one-on-one meetings.

It’s a valuable time of your day as a manager. You have the chance to start meaningful conversations, understand how they’re doing and where they need support, acknowledge and encourage their accomplishments and efforts. 

And during these meetings, you are able to actually cultivate trust and a culture of feedback that works for engineers. One way to do that is with a Git Analytics tool, which lets you know what’s going on before starting a one-on-one. 

One of your key responsibilities is to help everyone in your team reach their career goals. And one-on-ones allow you not only to talk about current work and coach engineers through the challenges, but to find opportunities to grow and cultivate their talent as they deserve. 

With a clear view on work patterns and progress over time, you gain valuable insights into each engineer’s output. This helps you direct one-on-one meetings effectively based on relevant metrics and identify coaching opportunities exactly when it’s needed. This approach is better appreciated by engineers than a series of hunch-based questions. 

You ensure both the success of projects and the well-being of your team, the most important duties as their engineering manager.

5. Project Management

Software engineers work in a fast-paced environment. A big part of your day-to-day management is to keep track of them and manage projects at the same time with no delays. 

This goes from taking the time to plan sprints, to analyze, discuss and negotiate resources and requirements with customers, to supporting the team in meeting project milestones

It is also about sitting with engineers to assess risks or dependencies and make decisions to move forward, and with other leaders, making sure everything is aligned with the company’s business goals. 

Another responsibility on your side is regularly looking for ways to improve methodologies, frameworks and engineering management processes to optimize development processes. Try Waydev with your team for free and see how fast you can improve your engineers’ performance.

6. Administrative & Co.

While you spend most of your time on people and project management, there’s also something that requires your attention: documentation, reports, check-ups, learning and other admin tasks.  

Most engineering managers are able to make some time for this part at the start of the day or in the evenings. If you can, schedule some “alone time” at least a couple of days every week to handle the admin part. 

This can involve:

The tricky thing with metrics is they’re not always so simple like lines of code written or tickets cleared. The most relevant metrics respect the nuances of engineering work, such as the significance of code changes, the percentage of time engineers spend on new features vs. maintenance, churn or risky commits, and so on.

With Waydev, you can actually track, understand and optimize the meaningful metrics you need to actually pay attention to. Request a demo and see how you save time while measuring engineering performance automatically. 

7. A Bit of Coding

If there is some time left at the end of your day, you can return to your technical roots, assisting with some hands-on coding. It will probably be glue code or user interface. 

Most managers are engineers who realised they had a flair for leadership and loved helping others in their technical career paths. This knowledge and set of skills are great because one can empathize with engineers, understand work habits and address conflicts, as well as advocate for them. This is an essential part of being an engineering manager. 

It’s not your job to write a lot of code, but it’s nice to be a code contributor once in a while. You can take a look at code reviews and pull requests, or write a bit of code to solve annoying tasks that could disrupt engineers’ performance. 

Besides, you know how software is designed and developed, and you will become able to manage projects from within rather than outside.

You’re also there to provide technical guidance and ask the right questions when they’re actually stuck. And, at the same time, having technical expertise helps you evaluate people better, be it new hires or current employees.

8. Recruiting New Talent

Last, but not least, you’re likely to be the one responsible for recruiting new engineers in your team. 

You know best what your team needs and what types of people would be culturally aligned. And hiring the right people is key to supporting the well-being and productivity of your team.  

Recruiting new engineers is not something you spend most of your time on, but it’s an important process in your role. Make sure you plan your time well so that you manage to schedule candidates and set up interviews on an ongoing basis. 

Why Is an Engineering Manager’s Job Harder Than It Looks?

Usually, it’s because people management is hard. No one is born a selfless leader so great at managing others and ready to put people first all the time. And being an engineering manager means you’re probably better with data than with people, but communication is an important side of the engineering manager’s responsibilities.

So it takes time and practice to become a good manager, giving the team credit when there’s a victory to celebrate and taking responsibility when there’s been a mistake.

Plus, no one knows how to best manage engineers. Most of them have a rather introverted nature and a data-driven mindset, which can be extremely good and challenging at the same time. 

If we’re to sum up what makes the job of an engineering manager difficult, it’s:

1. Communicating With Other Human Beings (Especially Engineers) Is a Huge Shift.

As an engineer, your job is all about communication with computers. If it doesn’t get your command, it responds with an error message. Then you fix the problem and move to the next line of code. 

People don’t work like that. Each individual is different and sees the world differently. This means you have to get to know each one personally and learn about their work habits and passions, their way of thinking and how they communicate best. 

This requires incredible interpersonal skills from you as a manager, as well as a sense of camaraderie… and data to support your stories. Trying to persuade people (engineers or not) to listen to commands without actual logical reasons it’s not the way it works (and shouldn’t). 

2. Meeting Stakeholders’ Expectations Requires Patience and Decisiveness

Besides being a leader for your team of engineers, your management role means you’re also expected to support the business goals. 

You need to gain the trust of your stakeholders, making them accept your decisions and honest narratives, either good or not so good (making and admitting mistakes is part of the process).

This requires being decisive and able to communicate effectively – including technical aspects to both technical and non-technical stakeholders -, aligning team efforts to the company’s goals in a scalable way, and genuinely care about having a connection between stakeholders, other teams and engineers.

3. You’re on the Fine Line Between Micromanaging and Not Managing

These are plenty of stories about managers who were told by their teams they checked in too often. It’s understandable: managers cannot read minds and prefer to over communicate. Or on the contrary, they might give too much freedom and become absent.

The best way to overcome this is to get to know your team members, adjust to their work habits and actively listen to their feedback. It’s a big part of your responsibilities as a software engineering manager.

It’s tough to go from the comfortable world of coding to the uncomfortable world of managing people and projects. 

But, truth being told, it will be all worth it. You’ll grow into your role. You’ll get to enjoy a different way of building software, where thinking of technical strategies while supporting others will soon feel more rewarding than you thought. 

How Much Does and Engineering Manager Earn?

A software engineering manager’s salary is usually higher than a non-managerial job, but so is the responsability. According to specialized websites, the average engineering manager salary in 2023 was of around $150k, but it ranges between $139k – 171k. This depends greatly on experience, studies, but also on the company’s size. The geographical element should also be considered, as there are some significant differences depending on your area.

What Makes a Good Engineering Manager?

Engineering managers are the driving force behind the achievements of technical teams and projects. Their role goes beyond leading skilled professionals—they mentor team members while vigilantly maintaining quality standards and initiatives. However, an engineering manager demands much more than technical know-how alone. It would help if you had various leadership abilities, strong interpersonal skills, and a strategic mindset, such as:

Strong Technical Proficiency

While leadership is key, you must maintain deep technical know-how on the team’s part. Strong technical skills allow them to make sound decisions, offer insightful direction, and gain team members’ respect. They also entrust clear communication of complex concepts to stakeholders and proficient navigation of technical limitations.

Effective Communication Skills

Engineering managers actively listen and share goals, expectations, and feedback. You must cultivate an open environment where team members freely share opinions, concerns, and suggestions. Clear, transparent communication breeds trust, alignment, and collaboration.

Strategic Vision and Execution

You need to think strategically, aligning your team’s work with organizational goals. A strong understanding of the business landscape, industry trends, and market needs is key. Strategic vision allows them to prioritize tasks, allocate resources optimally, and make data-driven decisions that fuel lasting success.

People Management and Motivation

Building and leading high-performing teams is a major responsibility of an engineering manager. You must excel at people management, identify and cultivate talent, deliver constructive feedback, and foster growth.

Adaptability and Problem-Solving

The tech world is ever-changing, so you must adapt and tackle challenges head-on. Top managers readily adopt new technologies, methods, and strategies. Your strong problem-solving skills to anticipate risks, mitigate issues, and innovatively solve complex technical and operational limitations.

Get a good start with Waydev and gain full visibility of your team with real-time data. No need for interruptions to know how everyone is doing, just the right time to support them. Save time with practical insights and automatic reports.

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