What Becoming an Engineering Manager Feels Like
fetched at October 28, 2020

A senior engineer who is on track to becoming an engineering manager for their current team asked me what it's really like when you become the engineering manager. When you get the title change, and you turn up the next day as the manager of the team. What does it feel like?

In the past, I'd talk about all the different things that change. The change of routine. Meetings filling up your calendar. Coding less. The many one on ones. Getting access to information that you did not have before. Doing admin and other chores you did not know existed. But this has nothing to do with how it feels that first time.

It feels lonely.

The other day, you had your team, and you were one of them. The next, you're the manager. You now have an invisible wall between you and them. They're no longer the group you can share your problems with. You can't just freely speak your mind. People act different when you crack that exact same joke you did in the past.

While you have a team, it feels like you lost your real team. And you don't have a new one.

If you're lucky, you find a new group you can call your "new" team. Your first team. A group of managers in the org. A mentor or two, who've gone through a similar journey and where you can finally remove the filter you have on all day, and just say things as they are. Your own manager. And it will fill feel odd. Now that you became a manager, you'll end up being far more candid with your own manager than with your directs.

But when you start, it feels like when moving to a new city. Surrounded by many people, having many things to do. But when you catch a break and reflect on what it's really like: yes, it's exciting. You know it would be. But it's also something else. Unexpectedly lonely.

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