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If anyone is considering moving into engineering management, you'd do well to look not just at the how but the why. If it's for status/salary rather than the change in nature of the work be very careful about making the move.

You need to really want to manage and develop people (with all the idiosyncracies that real human beings come with!), and to communicate, co-ordinate, and delegate for a living.

Some will love this, others hate it. But don't view it as a natural progression that will work for everyone.






Yes, junior people frequently make the incorrect assumption that entering management is a promotion (partly because we have made the mistake of unthinkingly treating/rewarding it as such). They are often incentivized to seek management roles as part of a "this must be my career path" because of the associated salary.

It is a different role, and not merely a coder who tells people what to do. It has a different skill set, and some people will fail at / only muddle through it just like learning a new language or tool.

If you don't like dealing with people's problems, enjoy solving the problem at a detailed level and being quiet and working things out on your own, then management may not be for you.

There are companies that reward talented individual contributors as much as good managers, but they are rare. Also I would say that an individual contributor needs to be quite good to match a mediocre manager's salary, unfortunately -- but that's how the hierarchy is generally set up.


Realistically speaking though, manager is an upwards trajectory in the CS world. Most companies don't define the IC track well, and a staff engineer is usually a 10 year veteran whereas a manager path, even if you hate it with a passion is a quick way to get a really high salary with low years of experience. Even more salary once you become director and that's not out of the realm of normal with 5-7 years of exp. I know 1 staff engineer, and 0 principal engineers, whereas I know tons of directors/VPs. Clearly, the way to more money in the long run is the manager path even if you find it horrible.

I don’t know whether you’re right or wrong, but calling someone a veteran based on 10 years of exp, and a director after 5 to 7 years sounds like a recipe for disaster. (Unless you literally started the company or something Like that).

Could this actually explain why a lot of people don’t like their managers? Because they are just too damn inexperienced.

Re: knowing few staff or principal engs, my personal anecdotal observation (and other people have told me the same), is that many engineers don’t change their titles on LinkedIn, or say they are “staff eng” etc in public. In fact, for some people, the higher they go the more they downplay their title in public. Don’t have data to back this up, just anecdotal convos with some people I know.

I’d also like to think the culture is slowly changing, about feeling forced to get into people management to progress your career. But that could be wishful thinking!


> Could this actually explain why a lot of people don’t like their managers? Because they are just too damn inexperienced.

that's exactly why! i've worked and had managers who were so green and bad at their job. the staff engineers that i worked with were older folk that really have been around the block and had better communication skills than the managers. it's all extremely backwards


I agree with the overall point you're making.

> Clearly, the way to more money in the long run is the manager path even if you find it horrible.

Gotta break this down. How much more money would one need to make justify having a shitty time 40+ hours a week?


Everyone's got their own numbers, I'm sure. But if you don't want to be sitting and coding at the age of 50 with 20 year olds around you "changing the world" for yet another VC startup that will fold in 4 years, your best bet is to make as much money as you possibly can as fast as you can and with some smart decisions attempt to retire in your 40s aka the FIRE thing that is popular these days. Misery is subjective but it's the smart thing to do if you want the highest probability of doing whatever you want to do later

> But if you don't want to be sitting and coding at the age of 50 with 20 year olds around you "changing the world"

I would actually be okay with doing this, if it were an option. I believe it is not, due to how ageist tech hiring is.


To quote a discussion on HR from a while back (can't find the actual link in my history) - "My manager can fire me but I can't fire my manager". Manager is a promotion if only based on power dynamics.

It really does depend on the organization IMO. In a healthy organization, the managers manager can easily distinguish between contributions and fuck ups of the manager versus the same for the managers reportees.

If a team hits their metrics a good (super-) manager knows if it’s because of the manager or in spite of them, and vice versa.

What we really need is to train people to be better at identifying these organizational concerns, and set the right incentives, so that people choose to be Engineering Managers for the right reasons.

Edit: and to answer your question directly, in a healthy org, it’s definitely possible (and in fact in some very rare cases easier) to fire your manager than for them to fire you. Also depends on the level of trust you have built for yourself as in individual contributor.


Not to quibble, but it's a lot easier for most of us to "fire" our managers than it is for them to fire us. If your manager sucks, start interviewing.

I don't think that's a quibble. I think that's pretty fundamental. Most people don't quit their jobs, they quit their managers. And to your point, it is MUCH easier to quit than it is to fire someone. Firing someone is generally a painstaking process.

I've never had to fire someone but I've seen interviewing being very difficult. (With it being routinely common for engineers to spend months prepping on interview practice over weekends and nights before even doing their first real interview) Is firing someone really that difficult? I've seen it done on what seems like a whim - no long review process or anything.

At any mature employer if you fire someone (and it’s not due to general layoffs) you need a 6 month PIP pre-termination as legal cover.

> MUCH easier to quit than it is to fire someone

What's hard about firing people? I actually don't know and would love to find out if you could share your thought


Generally (especially as companies grow) it's all about liability protection. Companies don't want to get sued, and they don't want to lose if they do get sued. That means paper trails, and attempts at showing a history of objective criteria leading to the decision, etc. This often looks like performance improvement plans and so forth, and so it can be pretty easy for someone to do just enough to not get fired but still be a quite low performer (especially with inexperienced managers).

This is flipped on its head for things like abuse where the company could be liable for not responding to reports in a timely manner. Cross a line behavior-wise, and you can get fired quickly.


Large organizations (and many small ones) just don't do it if there's any way to avoid it. They're rich targets for lawsuits, of course, but more importantly, it has widespread effects on morale. Fire one guy, and ten start thinking that their jobs are nowhere near as reliable as they had thought.

Managing people work is not that bad by itself - you delegate things you don't want to yourself do or you want to give more resources to.

If you can do interesting work and use your team to help, it's great. The problem with management IMO is all the politics, "managing expectations" (I think this term must have been coined by some hardcore sociopath) and team quality.

You rarely have team of senior experts only so you can focus on doing great job. You have people underperforming, having issues with others etc. Also, employee personal agenda is often more or less different from company goals - it's a constant battle.


Who cares that much about the salary when you are that point in the Software Engineeering career track in SV anyway? What, really, is the difference between making $300K/yr and even fully doubling that to $600K? A nicer apartment, a nicer car, an earlier retirement? These are pretty marginal things if the cost is spending most of your time doing something you don't like.

The most common reason somebody becomes an EM that I've observed is because somebody else tells them to do it. It's a promotion, so you should want it. I'm one of very few people in the SwE world I've encountered who very actively and clearly wants to do it, and for the reasons you listed - to spend more time on humans and less on code.

Most of my managers have at best tolerated the position; several have confessed being miserable and just wanting to code again ("okay, let's switch" hasn't worked, though). That includes my current and previous manager; the one before those 2 said he didn't want to manage and despite being CTO was trying to maneuver into more of an architect position, the one before that quit within a month of being promoted. I've known several people who were EMs and switched back, and had a friend confess that she was on the verge of quitting before she got offered the chance to be an IC again.

Not a one who got promoted and then loved it.

Given that it's true most ICs want to code and not manage (even if many can learn to be good managers), and these days big company ICs are very well compensated... it really feels like the driving force is external - somebody else tells them to do it, it looks like the natural progression, and that's "just what you do" more than anything else.


Interesting insight. I would say that most of us s/ware engineers don't live in SV though, and often a salary bump truly is a tempting and significant incentive. But I'd like to think ICs are being better accommodated now (I know we are, in some more progressive places).

> Who cares that much about the salary when you are that point in the Software Engineeering career track in SV anyway? What, really, is the difference between making $300K/yr and even fully doubling that to $600K? A nicer apartment, a nicer car, an earlier retirement? These are pretty marginal things if the cost is spending most of your time doing something you don't like.

That is the difference between being a renter in SV for the rest of your life versus being an owner. It'd also set you up for retirement and potentially let you be a single income household.


Very spot on observation. I'm currently on the 'I tolerate it' bucket but I'm actively trying to hire for my replacement so I can move back to being an IC again.

At first I really disliked it but the more time I spend doing it, the better I get at it, the more rewarding it becomes. I fear by the time I find someone to actually replace me, I won't want to go back to being an IC.


It's an entirely different job, that's why nobody can just drop into it from being an engineer and magically be good at it.

Very few of the skills overlap even within the same categories such as architecture and execution. One is about the code, the other one is about the people.

Once the core skills are developed e.g. being able to clearly communicate a vision and plan, ability to have tough conversations, building interpersonal trust, being an effective salesperson for the team. Once these skills are adequately developed, it becomes a good job again.

Most people have spent at least a few years training to become a professional software engineer before being able to do that job, and yet most engineers don't give themselves/others the same understanding for developing the necessary skills to become a professional engineering manager.


Hah, 300k. Made half that building and then leading teams for products that made many millions in ARR. Man I'll never get over how good of a deal they got.

How much do you make now?

Not 300k! But enough to make me happy, especially considering it's not a big player yet.

I believe the best reason for this is you have looked around and soul searched and believe you are best equipped to put that team in the best position to succeed. Unfortunately, some percentage of people who come to that conclusion are sociopaths. So also don't be a sociopath..

Indeed, especially at a small company where it makes a big difference to have a capable person in charge. Even if it's not as fun as being on the front lines, it can be the responsible/right thing to do if you're the most qualified to do it.

Communicate, co-ordinate, and delegate feels like a great sound bite for what entry level management is.

What is you are sick of the churn in the coding side of work and feel you have a decent understanding of developing software?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying "management is a bad choice, period". Just try to be fairly sure of your own fit for it. Lots of people thrive in management it's very much "their thing"

Do you like the idea of managing people, setting goals, spending time thrashing out plans with colleagues where your team, not you, will do the "work" - or are you simply preparing to tolerate all that for the extra salary and perceived career progress?

Honestly, it's not a trick question - you might really like all that!




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