Become a Manager on My Own: A Classic Tale of Being Thrown into a Management Role

Marcus Wermuth

Engineering Manager at Buffer



"Two and a half years ago I was an iOS engineer when our CTO left. He was seemingly our only connection to the whole product organization. We didn't have a full manager set up in the company yet as we had just come out of a self-management phase. I was a bit worried about what would happen to our mobile team, where I was as an engineer when our CTO had left. At this time in the company there was a group forming called 'engineering leaders' where one or two engineering managers and a couple of staff engineers got together to figure out the transition of the CTO leaving. Basically, I was told that I needed to take care of my team responsibilities. As this got thrown back to me, I started chatting with the team and slowly began taking over one on one's and setting everything up from nothing."

Actions taken

Here are some ways I changed nothing into something along the way:

  • "An ode to saying goodbye to coding. I had to take steps to get closer to the team and know them on the manager level, rather than on the engineer level. That also meant letting go of the work that I was doing before, coding included, and turning my focus to just one thing, especially in the transition."
  • "Becoming a manager is not a promotion, it's a career change. The set of work I had was completely different. I had to start on a base level which meant owning my own education and reading as much as I could on management."
  • "Vitality is built through a good support network. I built my own network so that I could have some buddies to chat with about similar issues we face. What I did was go to LinkedIn, not for jobs, but as a database search for people in mobile lead roles and engineering managers who I could connect with. I wrote to them and got a couple of good chats out of it. I also joined different communities like Rands Leadership Slack, a very large and informational Slack from Michael Lopp, the VP at Slack."
  • "Stop taking over work in the name of helpfulness. I struggled at the beginning with wanting to feel important as a manager and would take on work that I should not have. I had to learn how to delegate in an active way so that my engineers did not get stuck in a continuous loop that never truly allowed them to grow. That also meant coming to terms with the feeling of decreased productiveness as manager."

Lessons learned

  • "As a manager you need to put the company first, your team second, and your team members last. Now this may sound harsh, but in practice, it leads to the best outcomes for everyone involved. For example, let's say you mixed up the order of these priorities: you put team members first and the company last. You could easily find yourself with an amazing team, building something that doesn't move the needle in any way for the company. Or worse, you could end up with a group of empowered individuals, each going off on their own way and not producing much valuable work."
  • "It is incredibly important for you as a manager to understand the higher-level vision of your company. You need to know where the ship needs to sail. Only then can you help your team get there and help them grow into the right direction."
  • "Three recommended books I have read are Managing Humans by Michael Loop, The Manager's Path by Camille Fournier, and The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. I have since acquired the following learnings from these readings:
    • I learned how important it is to be open and honest, and to build trust in my team, and to encourage discussions.
    • I learned more about everyone in my team, what they like and don't like. What is their work style? Do they flourish in chaotic situations or dread them? All these details are important to understand, to help each individual grow and perform at their best.
    • I learned about the different processes we had or were missing at Buffer. Your job as a manager is it to make the life of your team easier and to move obstacles out of their way. So knowing how things are done and where you can improve them is highly important."
  • "Find people who will push you out of your comfort zone and show you a new way of doing things. Surround yourself with people from different backgrounds and with different experiences. Find psychologists, design leaders, or even a kitchen chef. Understanding how others approach problems or find solutions is so key in broadening your horizon! Just by learning how others approach those things or just learning that bigger companies or more experienced leaders still struggle with similar problems was super helpful to me."
  • "It was a huge adjustment for me losing that feeling of productiveness as I moved from an engineer to a manager. I was used to writing code and seeing a visible change immediately, whereas in a manger role you start seeing things happen in weeks or months. There were a lot of improvements that I took from the article, When Being 'Helpful' is Actually Hurting, written by Camille Fournier that helped me to limit the amount of work I was taking over in hopes of feeling more productive."
  • "Having patience and trust is key, when shifting jobs from maker to manager. Feel comfortable with what you do. If your team is doing great, you are doing a great job."

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Marcus Wermuth

Engineering Manager at Buffer

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