Knowing What to Expect When Transitioning from IC to Management

Alex Bochannek

Engineering Manager, Site Reliability Engineering at Google



In the tech industry (and many other industries as well) oftentimes the only way to advance is to move into management – ultimately a change in career track. The most successful engineers are rewarded by being given a job in which they stop doing what they're good at and are instead put in a position that they have never done before nor are trained for. But if transitioning from individual contributor (IC) into a management role is something that you are interested in, what can you expect to do? What is it that an engineering manager actually does?

Actions taken

Depending on the size of the company, organizational structure, and management level, the role of the engineering manager can vary. However, here are three areas of work that the IC has likely not done before and that become central to the management responsibilities: Personnel, Budget, and Process & Tools.

Personnel – the classic people management. It's recruiting, hiring and firing, individual development, performance reviews, and working with HR. Depending on the environment and the growth of the company, this can take up a dramatic amount of your time.

Budget – the financial bit. These are contracts, capacity planning, vendor negotiations, and can involve a fair amount of hands-on technical work to find efficiencies.

Process & Tools - the servant leader aspect of management. The best process is the one that guides people and helps them get better. Make sure that they have all the tools that they need to do their job.

Lessons learned

  • Transitioning from an IC to a manager means that the technical contributions are no longer the primary responsibility. Instead, you contribute in other ways. It doesn't mean that you are less valuable, actually you are more valuable because you have the ability to become a force multiplier for the whole team.

  • For first-year managers it can be difficult to understand that the technical work will probably not be your most critical work. The way you influence a product will change and you will need to let go and shift responsibilities.

  • You can still advise on product direction and help guide the team resolve technical issues. Being in the critical path for technical deliverables can slow down the entire team however.

  • Ultimately, your contribution is measured by how happy your people are, making sure that your team feels supported, and observing how much work they get done.

  • Know that inevitable progress does not exist. Things will move forward, they move backwards, they move sideways, and if in the end you are better than you were before, that's success.

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Alex Bochannek

Engineering Manager, Site Reliability Engineering at Google

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