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Desiring to tread the path of Engineering Management faster?

Aspiring to become an Engineering leader early on in your career because Engineering Management is so fancy and hot? You may want to think about it again and I hope this post serves you as a good food for thought to aid your decision making.

If you are dreaming to becoming an Engineering Management leader sooner because pure Engineering doesn't carry that apparent charm, below are list of situations for you to ask your engineering leader and see if you get answers similar to what you have thought about it as a first-cut validation for your aspirations.

  1. How do you measure developer productivity - LoC, Spring Points, Say-do ratio, etc.? As extension, how do you measure team productivity - Velocity, Say-do ratio, etc.? [Spoiler alert: Most workplaces haven't got this right. A challenge you will have to face to make a difference in your role in Engineering management.]
  2. How many QAs are good for a development team? 
  3. How do you handle a poor performer in your team? [This is such a common question these days, that any Kaju or Kerry, will vomit a routine answer and perhaps mimic, to score a brownie. Spoiler alert, the most common answer that is liked and practiced is so darn egregious to put mildly. To me, the leader will stand out from the crowd in how this question is responded.]
  4. How would you let go of a developer your business function dislikes?
  5. How would you motivate your team to deliver quality product faster?
  6. Do you think as Engineering Leader it is your responsibility to say YES for all the things that your business and product demands from Engineering?
  7. How do you handle tasks with competing priorities to be picked up say, for a given sprint?
  8. How would you handle unplanned tasks coming your way in the midst of delivery?
  9. How do you wish the feature requirements are laid out to your engineering team?
  10. In your company's Agile model, different teams have different sprint sizes - ranging between 2 weeks to 2 months. What is your take on this?
  11. Burn out is so common in your teams that your executive leadership celebrates it. How do you intend to thrive in this atmosphere?
  12. Product and business determines the work estimates for your team, in your company. How do you influence your team to commit to the given delivery deadlines, to prove your commitment and demonstrate your engineering prowess?
  13. As an Engineering Leader, how do you intend to lay the career path for engineers in your team - pick a few roles and define your expectation for each of these roles to help categorize your team members by their expertise and experience.
  14. You Boss joins you in your meeting, scratching his head showing his frustration on the log volume that is burning the company's cash. He calls for persistent logs archival interval to be reduced. How do you intend to respond and proceed on this?
  15. How do you handle cross-functional and cross-team conflicts in your teams? Share a few examples that you have experienced and how did you overcome those?
  16. What is your take on microservices and monolith architectures?
  17. What in your opinion makes for good engineering practices?
  18. Your boss decided to hire more developers to increase delivery throughput. How do you intend to help him?
  19. Your boss decided to hire more developers on short term contract for 3-6 months duration. How do you intend to help him?
  20. Over the course of your experience, list the old engineering opinions/practices that you changed for good? [This is my favorite question that I ask any candidate to learn more about that person as an individual and his experiences.]
  21. Upon your joining a company, you are mandated to git rid of bottom 20% of your team and hire their replacements. How do you intend to execute this mandate?
  22. How do you measure your QA's expertise for performance?
  23. What is your expectation from a Product Manager, Program Manager, QA, BA, senior team member, junior team member, etc.?
  24. What is it in Engineering Management that you like wanting you to pursue this path?
  25. How do you see the day in the life of someone in the role of Engineering Management?
This by no means is an exhaustive list but a small sample of questions that you can start seeking answers for, if for nothing but to enjoy your professional journey. I did this heartily and have no regrets for my experience is super enriched that I have been paying it forward to folks I get to work with. I have worked with Engineering, Product and Business stakeholders alike in convincing them on the path forward on more occasions in many workplaces because I got my fundamentals in Engineering ironed out and I remain as curious as I was. As a matter of fact, with strong fundamentals alone, I have in the past decade, without fail, have led teams to continuous improvement and fastest jump in productivity by at least 20% in the first quarter.

Now for the bad news, it is likely that your old-school engineering leader give you dated answers giving you a false impression of Engineering Leadership roles and responsibilities; although on the positive side of it, you at least know what it takes to grow in the context of your company's environment. Take for instance, a real situation in many startup companies backed by well-known investors, it is common for investors to run audits and recommend improvement of Automated Testing Code Coverage. If you don't have your fundamentals right, as Engineering Manager you would end up merely trickling down the pressure, when what you should be doing is showing the right path to get there by working with the developers.

You might be thinking of adopting some book answers for the above sample questions and perhaps even get your dream job but then you won't enjoy a single day in your job and end up continuing for the sake of it. So don't be in a haste and join the rat race. Rather live your life learning on the job and get enlightened with every aha moment that comes by.