So congrats — you’ve done it! You’ve landed your next Engineering Management role!
But now what…?
No matter your experience as an Engineering Manager, you only get to be a newbie once at each company. So what can you do to make this a great experience and to make the most out of it?
There is so much to take in, from the onboarding process, HR inductions, new starter guides, getting all your tech and equipment set up, meeting all the new people in your department, new teams, and new peers. There is so much to do and we haven’t even started to think about kicking off our new role effectively.
So where do we even begin?
I was a newbie about 9 months ago and to get some inspiration for this article, I flicked to the first pages of my work journal. Ha — my writing is so neat, you don’t want to see how that’s changed!
I had a checklist of the tasks I wanted to complete in the first week, a list of names for all the people I wanted to have 1:1s with, and I had so many questions written down. I’ve scribbled ASK QUESTIONS …this brings back memories!
Personally, the most important thing is to take the time to get to know the individuals and the teams you will be working closely with.
Building relationships and connections is one of the most important things we, as Engineering Managers need to work on in order to have a successful career and a successful influence on our line reports and teams.
Schedule 1:1s with your line reports to get to know them before diving straight into the structure you may be used to from previous roles. It is useful to set the scene, to find out their backgrounds, and to hear some more about their day-to-day. This will naturally start a conversation about their experiences during their time at this company and of course, some valuable opinions might be shared.
In this initial conversation, your aim is to build rapport and you’ll start to lay some foundations for 1:1s going forward.
Now, it is also very important to take some time to connect with the teams you’ll be working with, in these sessions you’ll want to hear about their ways of working, the day-to-day processes, upcoming projects, and of course, the team dynamic.
To get some detailed insight into team roadmaps, pain points, future plans, and aspirations, it is a good idea to put extra time aside to catch up with the Tech Leads and the Senior Engineering Leaders, such as Principal and Staff Engineers. These individuals are likely to be working across a few teams, potentially spending more time in meetings and less time as individual contributors writing code. Because of their limited availability, you will want to set the tone a lot earlier, putting in extra time to catch up with these individuals to ensure they are at the very least, aware that they have your support from the start.
From my experiences so far, the following are also quite important to set yourself up for success...
Lean on your peer group
Your fellow Engineering Managers and Engineering Leaders will be your hub for knowledge sharing and personal development. They will be there to help you learn, to help you grow, and to give you a hand when you’ve spread yourself too thin (among so many other things).
Get to know this group a bit more by scheduling some meet and greets or 1:1s. It is never too early to build rapport, and in some of your first group meetings be brave enough to question your peers. Ask about their teams, the differences in team structures, team processes, anything new they’re trying with their teams, and what they’re working towards.
If anything, do not run into this role head first. By this I mean don’t try to implement changes all in one go.
Take several seats and observe. Be. A. Sponge 🧽
Share your intentions
Joining a new company is a big change. This will be new territory for you and an even bigger change for the teams & new line reports you have responsibility for. In the situation where you may have taken on a previous Engineering Managers' responsibilities, you want to make sure that you share your intentions.
Share your ideas and your approach for the next 30 days. Even if you plan to do nothing but observe and ask questions, let people know! Your colleagues will appreciate you sharing ideas with them and getting their input. This shows that you are the type of person who enjoys collaboration, honesty, and transparency which will put the teams and individuals at ease while you navigate your own onboarding process.
Consider how to develop your Domain Knowledge
Joining any company can be overwhelming, especially if you’re in a sector you have never worked in before. We want to be able to have meaningful conversations with our colleagues when it comes to domain and product knowledge, but it’s very hard to get up to speed in your first 90 days (and that’s okay). Don’t worry about this, instead start to think of a plan, think about how you are going to approach this knowledge gap, and start to make small goals. Whether it means locating some technical documentation relating to your engineering team, creating some simple diagrams to understand how systems work together or setting up calls with Product Managers to get more information. Start small.
- Ask people their opinion, listen to suggestions on getting some domain knowledge as a new starter
- Ask questions, ask where product documentation is. Identify gaps for example where documentation could be of use and use this opportunity to help you learn
- Shadow other engineering teams and other departments to understand how people interact with different systems (for example the Customer Service Team or any internal stakeholders)
- Shadow your peer group, see what the Engineering Managers get up to, and use this as an opportunity to learn
Lastly, it’s quite useful to paint yourself a picture of the company now that you’re actually there!
Understand the company — observe all the moving parts
You went through the interview stages and heard a lot of great things about the company: its initiatives, culture, and so on. But now you’re on the other side!
Take some time to find out some more information about your new company.
- Initiatives: What are some big initiatives at the moment? As an Engineering Manager, we care about these things, especially from a people development point perspective. Speak to your colleagues to discover what the company is working on and the type of steering groups they have in place. Are they employee-led, what is HRs role etc?
- Organisational changes: What are some upcoming or recent organisational changes that will have affected your line reports and teams?
Alongside this article there are so many Engineering Management and Leadership books out there, a lot of these books have helped me start to understand my leadership style, and there’s also a massive pile of books I’m yet to read!
Some of the books I have really enjoyed (and filled with sticky tabs) so far include “The Manager in Shorts“ by Gal Zellermayer, “The Harvard Business Review Emotional Intelligence Series” and “Leading the Workforce of the Future: Inspiring a Mindset of Passion, Innovation and Growth” by Brigette Tasha Hyacinth”
So as you start to settle into your Engineering Management role at a new company, take some time to take in your new environment. Slowly build those relationships, and most importantly, listen.
About the Author
Phillipa Rodney is currently an Engineering Manager at Zego, where she works closely with engineers, product managers and engineering managers whilst leading the business’ platform teams. Phillipa lives and breathes mentoring and is using her status as a Chartered Engineer to inspire others to become Professionally Registered!
We had an interesting conversation with Phillipa a couple of month ago about the transition from IC to EM, career choices, and other relevant topics if you are yourself an Engineering Leader - enjoy!