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Is CS Training Essential to Be a Successful Engineering Leader?

Yi Huang

Director of Engineering at Facebook

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Problem

Many people are under the impression that if they do not know everything about CS, then they cannot be successful leading an engineering team in doing something useful. My sense is that it is not necessary, but it also doesn't mean that you do not need a CS background to be successful. For those reasons, deciding whether you need CS skills as an engineering leader should really be approached case by case.

Actions taken

  • Contemplate how you have arrived at your position without CS training in the first place and what skills other engineering leaders possess.
  • Evaluate your balance between strength and warmth as an engineering leader. Strength is your capability; your strong opinions, technical skills, and ability to achieve something. Warmth is your empathy, care, lovingness, and approachability towards your team. Can your strength be demonstrated without CS skills?
  • Do not focus solely on the project at hand, but rather on what you want to be in the future and how you would develop your own personal growth. Determine your long term versus short term goals and how CS training fits into the ROI of that.

Lessons learned

  • I have a lot of engineering leaders who are very successful and without CS training. Even those with training are finding themselves with extremely outdated skills from the years that have passed since acquiring that mastery. The truth is, the higher up you go on the career ladder, the more generic your role will be.
  • The teams' composition changes the dynamic and most optimal balance between strength and warmth in terms of success. You can not be a successful leader by being super strong and showing no warmth at all. On the other hand, you do not want to be an over-caring leader without being able to complete things. Without strength, people with not show you respect, but if you keep too much distance however, you undermine your approachability.
  • You do not have to be good at everything, but you need to be good at something. The key to having enough strengths is to show that you are good at something at least once. Think of Olympic sports as an example. If you win a gold medal one time, you are always a champion. For warmth, however, you have to do it every single time. If you miss the mark once, you may lose it forever. If you break a relationship with an engineer, that integrity and honesty are almost impossible to recover.
  • CS training is defined under the category of strength. It may help you to gain your strength and respect with people, but it is not the only way. You can be very good at product vision or in seeing things that others cannot. Those can be other ways you demonstrate your strengths. You do however need to make sure you are demonstrating enough of your strength.
  • Your success is not what you do in the 8 hours you spend at work, but what you do after. This is what really separates people from each other and helps to determine your long term success. Just because you do not need CS training right now, doesn't mean that later down the road, you won't need it. It may come in handy for a job interview where they ask you specific questions in that area. I for one can vouch that we do that here at Facebook.

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Yi Huang

Director of Engineering at Facebook


Engineering LeadershipLeadership DevelopmentCommunicationOrganizational StrategyDecision MakingCulture DevelopmentEngineering ManagementCareer GrowthCareer ProgressionCareer Ladder

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