Engineering Management - An Art or a Science

Engineering Management - An Art or a Science

 Engineering Management - An Art or a Science

I wish someone drilled that into my brain when I started out as a new manager.  Engineering is a Science. Management is an Art. Engineering Management is a fascinating mix of both and requires deliberate practice to get it right. I wish I had made that people factor the most important thing when I started out. Like many engineers who start their management career, I over indexed on the technical depth.   That changed over time, of course but I wish it had happened sooner when I started out.   Rock star engineers can make poor managers unless they deliberately practice people management. 
They are smart and driven but don't pay attention to this fact. Their intelligence that made them rock star engineers is precisely what is bound to fail them unless they realize that. A good player does not automatically end up being the best coach.   Management is as much unlearning as new learning and a lot of it is not obvious. The transition from technical depth to management breadth is not easy. Managing people requires high emotional intelligence and making judgment calls. A team is composed of people with different skills and different levels of experiences. Expecting everyone to be a rockstar will be challenging.  

A new manager who is kind may be considered weak. A new manager who is strong may be considered aggressive. Finding the balance will take time. This is one of the first things that a new manager needs to learn - when to step back and let the team take charge and when to take control of a situation.   First, it’s about people. A good manager will let him team shine through. As in sports, coaches are celebrated less than the star players but it’s important to understand that the players succeeded because of the coach. An all-star team with a poor manager can flounder. 
An average team with a great manager can accomplish a lot. It’s about grooming people and letting the team members excel and be visible.   An insecure manager wants to be visible everywhere. They want to outshine their team. They want people to believe that they are the team. They are able to work hard and accomplish a lot but they can’t scale. They can’t have other team members who can pick up the load and free them up to do even better things. 
A team’s success is manager’s success.   Second, it’s about building trust. Whether the manager was promoted from within or hired externally, building trust as a manager with the team, peers and leadership is critical. A good engineer who has earned lot of trust with the team cannot assume that the trust equity built as an engineer will automatically carry over when the person becomes a manager. In order to build trust the manager needs to know the team members well. This comes through open and honest communication. There is no point holding back feedback. There is no point holding a grudge. 
A manager is expected to be friendly and not necessarily a friend.   Third, it’s about motivation. Not to stereotype but a majority of engineers are heads down working on difficult problems and expect very little public recognition. They want to be left alone and given interesting problems to solve. They don’t care about the kudos given in public. Some do. A lot don’t. Money doesn’t drive people. It’s an impediment when inadequate but not necessarily a motivator when given plenty. It drives performance to an extent, especially the new hires but once they reach a level of maturity then money becomes a ticket to play. As long as they are paid well - not necessarily the highest in the industry - but well, more money doesn’t equate to more engagement. 

A good manager can create a conducive environment for people to thrive and make sure they are paid well but beyond that the motivation has to come from within. A motivating speech can have a momentary positive impact and so can an episode of angry bout. The lasting impact will come from helping people get motivated.   Fourth, sometimes managers fail for no reason and that’s ok. This part confuses new managers. An engineer is a logical being. The inputs and outputs of scientific systems are mostly predictable. People are different. It’s impossible to control everything in employees lives. 
They may be happy with the manager and the team and still end up leaving the team for no apparent reason. A manager needs to understand the motivations and fix the issues. Sometimes, it’s impossible to discern the reason and that’s ok. A team should be able to function as a cohesive unit without any single individual. It’s the responsibility of the manager to make sure that it happens and not to be upset when he or she has done everything under their control to do the right thing. I should reword the first sentence of this paragraph. Sometimes managers fail to reason and that’s ok. It’s not a failure. 

These are some of the factors that go into a new manager’s initiation process.  In summary, management is mostly about people. I wish someone said that when I started as a manager.   Disclaimer: The contents of this article are my personal opinions expressed as an individual. They do not represent the views of my employer.

                                            Marudaraj Jivaraj
Marudaraj is a seasoned software industry leader with 22 years of AI, CRM and Payments domain experience including 12 years in various management and leadership roles working for Large, Medium and Small enterprises. His biggest strength is realizing organizational vision by translating strategic goals into tactical execution action plans for his teams. He has established and managed Budgets, Metrics and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).  He has developed, managed and scaled teams that developed and delivered highly scalable SaaS applications on the Cloud including API, Desktop, Mobile and Web applications. 
He has vast international experience managing teams across geographical locations. His experience includes managing application development using Microsoft technology stack, Open technology stack, Alexa and mobile development in Android and iOS platforms.   Marudaraj enjoys reading non-fiction and long distance running. His other interests include food, finance and travel.   In a parallel world, he is a writer. He published a book on Amazon called "NRI Finance - A practical guide". He also writes blog posts on NRI Finance topics

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