How to suck as an engineering manager


Published on October 26, 2020

The best ten ways to fail as a team lead or engineering manager

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  1. Miss 1 on 1's
  2. Be so busy that the only time your team sees you is at the daily standup
  3. Fail to delegate
  4. Never take a team pulse or have a meeting for non-business purposes just to check in on team health
  5. Listen to your direct reports/team members but do nothing on their input
  6. Tell the team you understand but take no action
  7. Put up with too much bullshit / fail to insulate team or reports from garbage
  8. Only think of you and yourself vs. the team and/or your reports
  9. Constantly double or triple book yourself so you attend two meetings at once and can't listen and participate in either
  10. Consistently apologize for your poor behavior / missed meetings etc but keep doing what you are doing
  11. Fail to communicate down to team so you cut them off from larger decisions etc. Threw in a bonus :)

This role is difficult. We understand that but when you are struggling it is up to you to be aware enough you are not doing what you should be doing. Or that your too busy and seek help. Find a mentor. Not sure if you suck? Ask your team for some honest feedback outside of any formal processes.

I have noticed for management and above their reviews typically fail to incorporate feedback from all levels or the feedback is cherry-picked from certain people which abandons any hope of honest and real feedback. Want to know how to overcome all these?

Invert every one of them.

For example: Instead of missing 1 on 1s ..make them. If you know you cannot make today's or need to make changes then proactively communicate it. Proactive is not when the meeting is supposed to occur or 5 minutes before. Do better than that. Avoid:

  • Skipping
  • Scheduling and missing consistently
  • Rescheduling each one multiple times

Complaining and being negative is always easier than actually doing something about the issue. However, I see a lot of value in listing negative things because I think showing people what not todo is a nice way to get things going in the right direction. It is impossible though to define how to fix every issue seen above and I know with the appropriate context sometimes this shit has to occur. However, even if there is some bullshit you can be transparent and open/honest and let your people know. Acknowledgment, taking responsibility as the leader, and proper communication are key when you do have to go through less than ideal times.

Engineering management is an odd path. It is a difficult transition from architect to manager. Sometimes the only way to make it on up the career ladder is this route so people go for it when they should not. I hate when people choose this path for career reasons only or they have been forced this route. Every great architect cannot be and should not be an engineering manager. It is totally fine if you don't want to manage however in many businesses they fail to realize this and end up with bad engineering managers which unfortunately affects many more people.

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