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How To Develop Managers Through An Internship Program

Dave Underhill

VP Engineering at Pocket Gems

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Problem

When our company started out there were just two or three engineer in the office, so they hadn't required much management. However, overtime, we grew to 65 people, and needed more managers so there could more coordination between all of our engineers. One approach is to hire people externally to fill managerial roles. However, it can also be useful to develop managers internally.

Actions taken

Internally, there were a lot of people who say they're interested in becoming managers, but it can take some experience to figure out whether people are really interested in the management side of engineering, or whether they just think it's the default when progressing up the career ladder. A way to address this problem is to give engineers bitesize pieces of management experience, so they can figure out whether it is something they enjoy. To do this, we developed an internship program which gives them a chance to grow the team and develop a new engineer over the course of three months. We started out by figuring out who was interested in getting management experience, and the first time we did the program, we had just two interns. Once we had decided on the engineers for the internship we asked them to do phone screens and interviews to find an engineer they want to hire as an intern. This requires them to think through how to interview people to determine the best candidate, and to think about how the intern will fit into their team. Next, they have to go through a preparation phase, where they prepare for the intern's arrival and think through executing the onboarding. Once the interns start working, the engineers set up one-on-one's to identify the strengths and weaknesses of their new recruits and to coach and mentor them. All of these experiences help to simulate what it means to be a good manager, and gives the interns as much exposure to management as possible. At the end of the three month period, the intern leaves and we go through a retrospective process to determine whether we should hire them. We also ask for 360 feedback in order for our engineers to learn and grow. We now take on 12-15 interns at a time. This has been a really good way to start developing managers internally. Less than 20 percent of the engineers go from the summer program to managing internally. However, some follow the program several times as they enjoy the technical aspects of mentoring an intern, and others realize that they prefer writing code to management. This is a great outcome, as it provides us with a relatively inexpensive way for our engineers to learn that lesson, and we can ensure people are doing what they really enjoy.

Lessons learned

It's really important to provide engineers who want to be managers with experiences of what the job will really consist of. It's hard to articulate just how much of a human element is involved in the role, and it has to be worked through a little bit for engineers to really understand it. It's also important to have a positive attitude towards learning. All managers are still learning, and you'll continue to encounter things you have never had to deal with before. Engineers who become managers need to be comfortable with not having all the answers, and with talking to their peers to work out solutions.


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Dave Underhill

VP Engineering at Pocket Gems


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