If you are an engineer or aspire to be one, then you may have considered a career as an engineering manager. But what does that involve? What is the path to becoming an engineering manager? And what are the benefits and challenges of the job?
In this post, we will explore those questions and more. We will take a look at the career path of an engineering manager, from an entry-level position to a top management role. We will also discuss some of the key skills and attributes that are essential for success in this field. Finally, we will consider some of the pros and cons of being an engineering manager. So let’s get into it!!!
1. What Is an Engineering Manager?
An engineering manager is someone with the ability to fill the gap between engineers and managers – to be both one of “the guys” and an individual who can speak for the company. This person will frequently act as a liaison between development teams, senior management, and customers/users. They are also responsible for the allocation of human resources (i.e., hiring, firing, prioritizing workload), maintaining projects on schedule, and managing the department’s budget.
Most engineering managers have computer science degrees, but while getting the degree is a good start, it isn’t required to succeed in this field. In fact, some of the best engineering managers I know are self-taught. They may have entered the field with just an associates’ degree or no degree at all.
2. What Does An Engineer Manager Do?
Engineering manager responsibilities include:
- I am defining roles, setting expectations, and matching them to the appropriate individual for that role.
- They are promoting a culture of quality within their teams.
- They are making sure that projects are completed according to schedule.
- We are managing budgets for each project.
- Coordinating with other engineering managers across multiple product lines (e.g., iPhone/iPad apps vs. Mac apps) and higher-level managers across the department (e.g., VP of engineering) to make sure everyone is on the same page.
- Managing external vendors contracted for services within projects, making sure they are held accountable to their agreed-upon deadlines, budgets, and quality standards set out by the company.
- Managing human resources to make sure the company has the right people in place for projects.
- They are mentoring other managers and engineers within their teams, ensuring that they are following good practices, learning new skills, achieving goals, etc.
3. Why Become an Engineering Manager?
If you are thinking of becoming an engineering manager but have some reservations about whether or not you would be good at it, then take some time to research the field. Spend some time talking with managers in your company or related companies; ask them what they like and don’t like about their job.
Engineering management is a great way to progress through an organization without having to master difficult technical topics (e.g., algorithms, data structures, computer science theory). Instead, you can focus on making your team more productive, managing the technical staff across multiple teams, and addressing both organizational and systematic challenges.
4. What Are the Benefits of Being an Engineering Manager?
There are many potential benefits of becoming an engineering manager. These include:
- The opportunity to set goals for yourself (e.g., number of engineers to manage, products to launch).
- The ability to create your own legacy as a manager by building an effective team and getting them working on exciting projects. This is something that few engineers ever do.
- The opportunity for advancement within the company by taking on more challenging roles and leading larger teams.
- They were referred to as “leadership potential” by some companies, even if they don’t have an opening at the moment.
- It was being able to learn about issues that are more strategic in nature rather than line-specific or deep technical problems.
5. How Do I Become an Engineering Manager?
There are several paths that you can take to become an engineering manager. These include:
- Graduating with a CS degree and then getting work experience (i.e., the classic path).
- I am getting promoted into management without an associated degree or core skills upgrade (e.g., after switching into the field from another specialty like marketing, finance, etc.).
- Joining a company as a programmer and then getting promoted into management after you have been there for several years.
- Being recruited from another industry or company to take on the role of engineering manager because you have great people skills, show potential as a leader, and can help them improve their processes. This is perhaps the ideal situation since it allows you to skip the step of having to prove yourself as a programmer and lets you hit the ground running as a manager.
6. What Skills Are Required to Succeed as an Engineering Manager?
There are many valuable skills that will help you become a successful engineering manager. These include:
Good communication skills. This is perhaps the most important skill for any engineering manager and will be needed to convince your team of the value in adopting a particular process, performing analysis, or implementing a solution to a problem.
Experience with technical systems and concepts. You don’t need to be an expert in all engineering areas; instead, you need to be able to understand the nuances of an engineering problem and know how to structure a solution.
Hands-on experience as a programmer or engineer. This will make it easier for you to provide assistance or advice when needed and talk with your team about their work.
Good people skills. You need to be able to work with many types of people, especially the “difficult” ones, without losing your temper or being submissive. You will also need to convince others of the value in adopting a particular process, performing analysis, or implementing a solution to a problem.
Being self-sufficient and not complaining about work that needs to be done. This is a tough one since it’s hard for engineers to stop thinking of new things that they could spend their time working on (e.g., writing code) in favor of tasks that fall under the purview of management (e.g., interviewing candidates, putting together proposals, etc.).
It is being able to learn new things quickly. You don’t need to be an expert in all engineering areas; instead, you’ll need to be able to understand the nuances of an engineering problem and know how to structure a solution.
Strong analytical skills. The ability to analyze data sets, customer needs, competitive products, etc., and tell a compelling story out of the results will help you to be taken seriously when proposing a solution. It will also help you to convince your team of the value in adopting a particular process, performing analysis, or implementing a solution to a problem.
7. How Much Does an Engineering Manager Earn?
According to PayScale, the median salary for an engineering manager is $98,000. This is more than double what they would earn as an individual contributor ($45,000) and more than triple their salary ($30,000) if they were still a programmer (see below).
The biggest increase in earnings comes with experience. An individual contributor with 7-10 years of experience would make $42,000 (a 2.7x annual increase), while an engineering manager with the same amount of experience makes $102,000 (a 3.0x annual increase). For someone who is a little bit further into their career, a programmer with 11-15 years experience makes $51,000 (a 3.5x annual increase), while an engineering manager with the same number of years makes $114,000 (a 4.3x annual increase).
8. What Is the Difference Between a Software Engineer vs. an Engineering Manager?
The main difference between an engineering manager and a software engineer is that the former does not write code, while the latter does. If you are still writing code regularly, then you should probably focus on your craft rather than trying to become an engineering manager.
9. What Is the Job Outlook of an Engineering Manager?
The job outlook for an engineering manager is excellent. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of software developers is expected to grow at a rate of 17 percent from 2014-to 2024. Employment for non-software engineers is also projected to increase by 10 percent from 2010-to 2020.
In other words, there will be lots of job opportunities in the future if you become an engineering manager. This is especially true for people who become certified as a Scrum Master or Agile Coach since the demand for these skills is much higher than supply.
10. What Is a Typical Day Look Like for An Engineering Manager?
There is no typical day for an engineering manager. Rather, different jobs will require you to focus on different parts of the development process (e.g., requirements gathering, leading a team, mentoring individual contributors).
Engineering managers also spend their time working on things that are critical to their company’s success but aren’t technically part of the development process (e.g., interviewing candidates, attending planning meetings, etc.).
Since engineering managers lead teams of engineers who are responsible for building out their software architecture, they spend a lot of time working with both individual contributors and engineering managers at other companies. This helps them to understand how different systems work so that they can build the best possible solution for their own company.
11. How Much Time Does it Take to Become an Engineering Manager?
It takes about five years to become an engineering manager. Going from individual contributor to engineering manager with no additional certifications can take less than five years and does not require any additional education.
From my own experience, it usually takes another 3-4 years to become a junior Agile Coach or Scrum Master, even if you spend 20 hours a week studying and practicing.
12. Best Colleges to Study Engineering Management
There are a lot of different colleges that offer engineering management degrees. Here is a brief list of some popular ones:
- Illinois Institute of Technology
- Penn State University
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- Purdue University West Lafayette, IN
- Cooper Union College New York City, NY
- M.I.T. Sloan
13. Online Courses to Study Engineering Management
If you would prefer to learn about engineering management online, here is a list of some courses and certifications that might be useful:
Engineering Project Management Specialization by Coursera– This course provides students with a conceptual understanding and practical application of engineering project management techniques so that they can lead successful projects for their companies.
Engineering Project Management: Scope, Time, and Cost Management by Coursera- This course provides students with a conceptual understanding and practical application of scope, time, and cost management techniques so that they can lead successful projects for their companies.
Engineering Project Management: Initiating and Planning by Coursera- This course provides students with a conceptual understanding and practical application of initiating techniques so that they can lead successful projects for their companies.
Engineers are the type of people who love to solve problems. They also enjoy working with their hands and using tools, which makes them perfect candidates for a career as an engineering manager. In this role, they’ll be able to work on either designing or improving products that will make life easier for other engineers in the future. To start out at this job, you’ll need a degree from a four-year college program where you majored in mechanical engineering or industrial design. You can go even further by getting your master’s degree if you want to have more opportunities within your company later on down the road. With these skills under your belt, it should only take about five years before someone offers you a management position!