Managing a Team You Have No Technical Familiarity With

Gaurav Mathur

Engineering Manager at Airbnb



"I had a unique opportunity when I switched into management. I basically had a trial period of three months where I gained experience managing a few different teams. This is not common and traditionally when you switch from a role like an IC to a manager you start to manage something that you are already familiar with. In my case, though, I began managing a bunch of different projects that were not technically familiar to me."

Actions taken

"At first, this was a bit of a struggle. Coming from an IC role I thought I should probably read the code, do code reviews, and try to contribute as an IC would. However, due to the fact that I was managing a couple of different projects, I realized that this didn't make sense and that it wasn't going to scale. So I took a step back and decided to lean strongly on my team. I did this in two different ways.

  1. I began scheduling meetings aside from the traditional one-on-ones. I wanted to understand the problems more technically. So I met with engineers that stood out. They were either referred to me via word-of-mouth or I observed those who were more outspoken in meetings.

  2. In addition, I started attending key technical meetings and asking stupid questions. I wasn't afraid to make myself vulnerable and waste a little bit of people's time. It gave me the chance to understand things quickly, dig deep into specific areas, and supplied me with a foundation so that I knew what questions to ask in the future."

"As a result of these actions, I came out feeling more comfortable in my role. More so, I built trust with the ICs and had confidence in the decisions they were making. I knew when to dig deeper and I started asking the right questions at appropriate times. This gave the team a sense of autonomy, instead of the feeling of being micromanaged."

Lessons learned

  • "Use your past experiences to figure out how to guide people. What are the best practices and how can you implement them in your new role?"
  • "When transitioning into your new role, you need to get to a point where you feel comfortable as a manager and as a leader of a team."
  • "I found that you never really feel like you are as connected as you were when you were an IC. But you can gain a little connection and develop into a good leader by confidently leaning on your team, especially your tech leads."
  • "I have seen other new managers come up who were technically deep as an IC and wanted to continue on that deep technical track. Unfortunately, it doesn't give the IC engineers as much freedom and autonomy to step up, excel in their work, and move into leadership roles."
  • "The role of a manager is important, but the team will continue to function without you. And that's your goal. You don't want to be someone the team is entirely dependent on."

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Gaurav Mathur

Engineering Manager at Airbnb

Engineering LeadershipLeadership DevelopmentCommunicationOrganizational StrategyDecision MakingCulture DevelopmentEngineering ManagementSprint CadencePerformance Metrics

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