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Staying Technical While Growing As a Manager

Dev Processes
Personal Growth
Career Path

4 July, 2019

Aanchal Jain
Aanchal Jain

Senior Engineering Manager at Quantcast

Aanchal Jain, Senior Engineering Manager at Quantcast, explains how she manages to stay technical while being a manager and how staying technical earns her respect and keeps her sanity.

Problem

I've been an engineer for a long time and if I would have to briefly describe myself I would go with 'a hands-on EM' label. I still write code, do code reviews, help new hires with projects and do some side projects myself. Moreover, I regularly put my input on how the system should look like and examine if there are any design flaws. My own experience of designing a great many systems, oftentimes from scratch, contributed to my technical expertise that serves my team in their daily work.

Actions taken

A precondition for staying technical is to find time to regularly perfect and propel your technical skills. Oftentimes, meetings and other managerial chores consume all of your time and to stay technical you have to block your calendar. Then, select a project that has no time limitation and just start coding. Get right into the trenches. Last year when we designed a pipeline system I joined my engineers and roll up my sleeves. I participated in all the design and brainstorming sessions, getting into the tiniest details and discussing if we should use gRPC (g Remote Procedure Calls) or REST APIs (Representational State Transfer Application Program Interface), Kafka VS Kinesis...etc I did other projects with my team as well. I would usually work on a prototype and my developers would benefit the most from my involvement in the research phase. Being in the trenches also include being involved in an exchange of arguments that would require you to constantly hone your skills. For example, earlier this year one of the engineers was decisive to do something his way and had corroborated his approach with some solid arguments. We discussed his approach over many meetings, exchanged the arguments and eventually, I decided to support his approach. This kind of intellectual engagement also helps you stay technical.

Lessons learned

  • Being a well-rounded EM means intertwining managerial skills with technical knowledge. Therefore, staying technical is a must. Staying technical will not only complement your managerial skills but will earn you respect and keep your sanity.
  • Your engineers will respect you more if you are capable of helping them in their daily work. Your technical knowledge and skills should match their expectations and it is frequently forgotten that managers should help engineers not the other way around.
  • Being a manager does not imply that you know everything and that you need to impose your opinion on the team. On the contrary, as an EM you should engage in discussions and continuously learn from an exchange of arguments.

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