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Post by Rich Moy on Jul 24, 2018 12:00:00 PM

The most successful engineering teams have two things in common: Talented programmers and exceptional managers to lead them.

Engineering managers have a lot of the same responsibilities as non-technical managers. For the most part, they are focused on their people. Not only do they coach individuals, but they also evaluate and optimize how the team’s output advances the company’s overall goals.

Most, if not all, of today’s engineering managers began their careers as developers. As a result, your ideal candidate needs to possess a unique combination of technical and managerial skills. Finding candidates that can write code and motivate programmers is a difficult task for any talent acquisition leader. To make it a little easier for you and your recruitment team, here are a few tips to keep in mind.

Know Where They Spend Their Time

When you enter the term “engineering management forums” on Google, you won’t see many online discussion boards designed for technology leaders. Instead, you’ll find a variety of management societies, in-person events, and information about Masters-level programs for aspiring managers.

That doesn’t mean the managers that you’re looking for aren’t experimenting with code in their free time. In fact, your company’s tech stack could give you the insights you need to find out where they spend their free time.

Let’s say that your tech stack includes Redis. Now, take a look at the homepage for the Redis community. There are links to the Redis communities on Stack Overflow and Reddit, as well as links to Meetup events in some of the biggest cities in the world. Sure, not all of the participants will be engineering managers, or even aspire to step into a management role. But these are still valuable insights to help you understand where your ideal candidates might spend their time, as well as the types of issues they’ll be coaching their direct reports to tackle.

Understand Their Biggest Challenges at Work

Jessica McKellar, Founder and CTO of Pilot, says that when you’re a technical manager, your job is mostly about humans. “There are two things you should always be thinking about,” McKellar continues. “People’s day-to-day and their year-to-year. As a leader, you can shape their experience on both to help them find a trajectory that meets their goals and your needs.”

Understanding the nuances of the role can set your recruitment team apart from the competition to hire an engineering manager. Let’s break down a couple of the biggest challenges any technical leader will face.

  • Showing Empathy, While Driving Business Initiatives. Jake Bennett, CTO at POP, says that unlike individual contributors, engineering management doesn’t have the luxury of viewing technology through a technical lens. “New managers often [make a case] for their initiatives in technical terms rather than business terms,” he adds. “The best way to overcome this is to take the time to understand the business metrics that the company cares about, and the pain points felt by other departments.”
  • Reading More Code, and Writing Less. The reality for most tech leaders is that they’ll be stepping away from coding. This can be a shock for anyone who loves programming, and it's something that your talent acquisition team should keep in mind. Ultimately, it’s important for any engineering leader to be a good reader of code, rather than an excellent writer of it. David Loftesness, Twitter’s former Director of Engineering, adds, “It’s okay to read enough to know what people are working on, to understand progress and manage the team. Just don’t slip into writing code as an escape from management responsibilities.

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