Transitioning from IC to Management: Allow Yourself to be Hands-Off

Eric Chiang

Senior Software Engineering Manager at Netflix



As an engineer, I was great at planning my own projects and figuring out what I needed to do. When I ran into issues or heard about issues, I enjoyed the challenge of either suggesting ideas on approaches or getting my hands dirty in terms of figuring out how to solve the problem.

After moving into an Engineering Manager role, I still wanted to help with project planning/scoping, triage production related issues, and provide feedback in architecture meetings. This created a problem where I continued to be hands-on, and I wasn't spending time that needed my attention (hiring for a backfill for my position).

Actions taken

The team had senior and smart engineers who were all very capable, and there was no reason why I needed to be a part of all project and architecture meetings. I became selective of the project related meetings I went to. The team was working on many projects, and they could run the meetings. If needed, I could always sync up with the engineers on the project if I needed to know some information. This also meant that if someone came to me with a question about a project, I could redirect that person to the engineer who was running point on the project.

Lessons learned

There are many things that both you and your team can do. If you are doing a task that anyone on your team can do, ask yourself why you're working on that task. By delegating to your team, you are free to work on the things that only you can do (hiring, strategy, etc). This also allows members on your team to grow in different areas they may be weak at.

There are likely many projects that are in flight, and you do not need to know everything that your team is doing. Stay close to a couple, but don't try to stay close to all. Pick and choose depending on your motivation (e.g. you might be in the middle of coaching an engineer to grow into a lead or maybe there's a project that's highly cross functional and requires you to have as much context as possible).

These tactics will help you scale both you and your team.

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Eric Chiang

Senior Software Engineering Manager at Netflix

Engineering LeadershipLeadership DevelopmentCommunicationOrganizational StrategyDecision MakingCulture DevelopmentEngineering ManagementPerformance MetricsMentorship ProgramsCareer Growth

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