What Makes a Successful Software Engineering Manager?

What Makes a Successful Software Engineering Manager?

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As a software engineering graduate who has perhaps worked as a software engineer for some time, you might be considering a climb up the corporate ladder into software engineering management. And, there’s never been a better time than the present for those who want to follow this career route. It’s certainly a great time to be in software engineering management as the field finally reaches maturity and more individuals and companies are realizing its potential.

Whether you are looking to land a new software engineering management role or simply trying to brush up on your skills and make sure that your skillset remains current and up-to-date in a field that’s rapidly evolving, your success depends on developing a keen understanding of what’s required right now and in the near future for engineering managers.

Business Skills

Strong technical knowledge is a must for any engineering manager, but this needs to be paired with excellent business abilities. Software engineering managers tend to move out of creative, tech-based roles into those that require them to get good at leading a team, working with people, and understanding how each and every decision they make affects the company as a whole. A good software engineering manager not only needs to have good attention to the smaller details but should also be able to see the bigger picture, which often means learning more about how all the different departments of the business work together and how they are impacted by the decisions made by the software development team.

To improve their business leadership skills and become better communicators, risk-takers, critical thinkers, and decision-makers, many software engineers are considering getting an MBA to improve their career outlook and fast-track the move to engineering management. Click here to find out more about the benefits of getting an MBA for engineers.

Updated Knowledge of Software Technologies

Software engineering managers need to be knowledgeable and up-to-date when it comes to the frameworks, languages, toolkits, methodologies, cloud services, and more, that their team is using on a regular basis. While managers do not necessarily need to have an acute understanding of the inner working of each, it’s important to ensure that you know what is applicable for any given situation and get to know the advantages and disadvantages of each tool.

Typically, you will turn to senior software developers and architects when you need to get an informed decision on which toolchains and stacks are the best options for each application, but it’s wise to be informed enough to evaluate these decisions rather than going in blind. It’s important to know both the benefits and risks of any particular technology, including risks that software developers might not center their decisions around such as cost estimates.

Up-to-Date Coding Knowledge

There are certainly plenty of software engineering managers out there who haven’t written a line of code in years. However, while writing code might not necessarily be your job anymore, you’re putting yourself at a disadvantage if you do not stay up to date and understand how to read the code that your team uses to write software applications. Being unable to understand the code used means that you will not be able to appraise your team’s work and put yourself at a higher risk of approving tasks and projects that have coding errors that could lead to problems for the end-user.

Along with staying proficient with the code that your current team uses, it’s also worth your while to stay up-to-date with other popular coding languages as you may find yourself out of your depth if you want to apply for a new engineering management role where the team works in a coding language that your previous one did not use. Having a strong proficiency in both reading and writing code means that your team will be better able to trust your feedback and judgment when it comes to their work.

Communication Skills

Strong communication skills are a requirement for any kind of management role in any industry, but perhaps even more important in software engineering management where soft skills are often not emphasized quite as much as technical skills. If you’re thinking about becoming a software engineering manager, it’s important to evaluate whether you actually want to work in a role that is heavily focused on people skills, rather than technical skills, or did you simply want to do more programming? Are your people skills polished and developed enough to be a good manager?

Having a strong understanding of the technical side of things is just one part of being a good software engineering manager; in order to succeed, it’s important to become adept at communicating your ideas clearly, actively listening to your team, generating team buzz, effectively communicating project context and information outside of the team, communicating with stakeholders, coordinating projects, delegating tasks, and taking an interest in team members as individuals. Your team needs to be able to trust your ability to manage, which you can demonstrate with a strong ability to communicate fluidly and effectively with everybody in the organization.

Emotional Intelligence

Developing your emotional intelligence will allow you to be a better manager and a better communicator in general. Emotionally intelligent software engineering managers know that trust is at the heart of what makes or breaks a good developer, and understand that as a manager, they need to learn how to trust their team and give them some space to get the work done. New software engineering managers who have jumped straight from a software engineering role into management can often find themselves falling foul to micromanagement, which has the opposite to the desired effect by undermining the team’s ability and skills.

Emotionally intelligent managers know that their team has the skills needed to get the job done well, and rather than providing endless direction, they communicate clear instructions and make themselves available for questions. They are skilled at forming personal connections with their team members that will ultimately encourage open and honest conversations between team members and with themselves. A good software engineering manager ensures that everybody in the room is heard and considered, and respects any insight or experience that their team can provide; they know that simply being the manager does not always mean that they are the most knowledgeable on any given subject and that any member of the team could teach them something new.

Belief in the Company’s Process, Product, and Vision

Whether you want to move up the ranks into a software engineering management role in your current organization or are considering applying for a new role, it’s important to ask yourself whether or not you believe in the company’s engineering processes, product, and vision. How you feel about the organization and what it does, plus your ability to head successful projects is going to be a very important factor in not only how well you do, but also how long you are likely to stay in the role. Whether or not your beliefs and values are in line with those of the organization is not only important for you to take into consideration, but will also be important for the company hiring you.

Figure out whether their engineering processes are in line with your standards by learning more about their current engineering processes. While your role as a software engineering manager may include implementing some new practices and improving the way that is done, you may not want to work for a company that needs a complete overhaul.

Agile Management

Agile practices are becoming commonplace in the software engineering world with over 50% of organizations having at least half of their team using Agile methodologies for software development projects. With Agile becoming more mature and pervasive within these organizations, it’s no surprise that many are looking for software engineering managers that have a solid understanding of these practices. The Agile approach places a strong focus on both intra- and inter-team communication, continuous development and testing, communication, flow or artifacts, and automation across activities.

Rather than having various team activities existing in a vacuum in large chunks as is the case with the Waterfall model, Agile software development allows activities to be broken up into smaller increments and continually built upon. As a result, continuous testing means that software tends to be less prone to errors, easier to release, includes less manual work, and is less susceptible to schedule blowouts.

As a software engineering manager working with Agile processes, you will need to clearly communicate expectations, remove anything standing in the way of success, and trust that your team can self-organize while offering assistance and support where needed. With Agile software engineers, some of the most highly in-demand today, growing your Agile skillset is particularly important if you are a software engineer or engineering manager with little to no Agile experience so far.

Software engineering management is one of the fastest-growing career options out there and is an ideal choice for those with a software development background who are looking to move into a more people-oriented career with more responsibility.