Growing engineers into managers
6 December, 2017
I had been a manager at Google for a few years when a staff engineer joined my group. Staff engineers are fairly senior, seasoned engineers, and I was impressed by him. Due to this, one of my goals was to have him start managing part of my work and team, as I wanted to transition to another role based in another country.
I started by talking to him about the projects I wanted him to lead. He was excited about them, but he didn't envision himself managing a team anytime soon. When we started working together, I found that he worked well as an engineer, but our dynamic together didn't quite click. He was also suffering from me working a lot with another engineer in my team. The other engineer was also transitioning to a managerial role, but that one wanted to be a manager and our personalities worked better together. I was giving a lot of guidance to the new staff engineer in terms of getting him excited about projects and asking him to own them more. I was also asking him about team dynamics, and I asked him to act as a mentor to some more junior engineers. This gave me a good indication of the impact he could have if he were to follow a management path. Eventually, I had to leave the team and by the time I did he was managing some of the team's members. However, he wasn't viewed as a good manager by his team. He was doing the job, but he didn't enjoy the role. A few months later, I found out that he was doing a much better job. I wasn't surprised by this, as when I left I did an exit interview with him. During this, he had told me that he had trouble working with me, as I was doing too much - I was coding, managing and I was training other managers. Because of this, he couldn't see himself in my shoes and he didn't want to manage in the way I was. Many of the directions I had been pushing him in were how I liked to manage, but he was afraid of working in this way. However, once I had left, he started trying his own things, and he found engineers he clicked with. As soon as he was in charge he started to flourish.
Not everybody grows in the same way. It's very important to be explicit, especially with people who are transitioning from one role to another, about the fact there are different ways to be a manager. If I'd been very clear with this person that I wanted them to be a manager, but I didn't want them to be me, they would have found the transition much simpler. Leave some room for the other person so that they can grow.
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