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Convincing Engineers Not to Be Managers

Handling Promotion
New Manager
Personal growth
Career Path
Coaching / Training / Mentorship

17 January, 2018

Zach Haehn, VP of Engineering at Percolate, talks about why he tries to convince engineers not to be managers, to ensure that they would really be a good fit as a manager.

Problem

Generally, in a developer's career, they reach a point where they have to make a decision about whether they want to move into a management role, or whether they want to continue down a technical track. That can be a difficult decision, as many engineers will feel a lot of pressure to go into management, and they will see this as progression. Often, a company's technical track isn't very well established, so it won't feel like a promotion.

Actions taken

My strategy is generally to convince people out of going into management. I do this to ensure people are really very interested in management. When someone comes to me and says they want to be a manager, I ask them a lot of questions about why they want to be a manager, and what it is about management that attracts them. I also question them to ensure they understand that it's an entirely different role to engineering and that people are a lot more complicated than programming, as there is a lot more grey area.

I then go through my calendar with them and go through the types of situations I've dealt with in the past few months with the engineer to see what their appetite is for managerial work. I try to convince people out of it, because if they are very insistent that it's what they want, it will show and it will come through.

Eight out of ten times, people will then decide that management is not for them, but will then discuss alternative ways in which they can grow and develop, and be promoted. This is probably a healthier discussion, as it focuses on growth rather than a promotion for a promotion's sake.

Lessons learned

Often when people think they're ready they're not. So, when looking at promoting people to being a lead I generally want that person to already act as a leader in the team. A team lead shouldn't be leading because of their position but because of their ability to inspire people to follow them. If you can't convince people to do things on your own merits or on the objective merits of the task, then you're not really leading.


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