Becoming a manager is changing job, not getting a promotion posted on 12 February 2024

Every now and then, a senior engineer asks me about my experience managing people and whether they should become a manager. For context, I used to be a TLM (Tech Lead Manager) at Google, an IC (Individual Contributor) but with reports (in my case both direct or through middle managers) – so practically speaking, I was managing people.

My answer is that they should first think about why they want to become a manager. There’s one and only one good reason to become a manager: you care more about people than yourself and want to help them grow.

You shouldn’t become a manager if:

  • You want authority over others
  • You want to advance your career by having people “working for you”
  • You want to look good to friends/family/colleagues

With that being said, you should keep a few things in mind about managing people:

  • It is a different job: Your responsibilities are different, you don’t write code anymore.
  • It is not always fun/glamorous: You will have to properly deliver negative feedback, deal with HR etc.
  • It comes with a lot of responsibilities: You need to balance company priorities with your team happiness – the primary reason software engineers leave their job is because of their manager, so the stakes are pretty high.

I personally started to manage people I was mentoring, so me becoming their manager just meant I would fill some paperwork (e.g. their performance calibration). Managing people was one of the most rewarding things I did during my career – it probably delayed my personal growth but it was a pleasure to see new grads growing to become senior engineers. I didn’t enjoy as much having indirect reports, but this is a topic for another post.

To be clear, your genuine interest in people is the first requirement to become a good manager but there are more skills you need to become successful.

Still thinking about managing people and have questions? Already managing people and disagree with this post? Write your thoughts in the comments!

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