16 Reasons Not To Go Into Engineering Management

16 Reasons Not To Go Into Engineering Management
Poster by Wang Dexin, Zhang Guofan - Museum of Ethnography, Sweden

I’m working on an article describing the signs and behaviors that can indicate Engineering Management potential. But before getting into that, I had a fun thought experiment of the opposite: what motivations, beliefs and characteristics would make me think that someone is in for a bad surprise when going into management. It’s tongue-in-cheek, but it might spark some thoughts about managerial motivations. Many skilled individual contributors are being pushed into a managerial role, but this career change is too important not to do proactively while being fully aware of its implications.

So here it is, a random list of opinions, characteristics, and beliefs that might suggest Engineering Management isn't the best career path for you:

💰 You want to make more money, and getting a raise means managing people.

💻 Being a manager will allow you to tell others how code should be written.

💤 You snooze over the business updates during the company all-hands.

🚶‍♂️ You prefer to work alone.

😤 You get frustrated if you have to explain something for the second time.

🧑‍💼 Managing a good relationship with other departments, stakeholders, and clients is just insincere politics and people-pleasing.

🧐 You feel uneasy until your work's correctness is evident.

🎓 You prefer deep expertise in a few areas to broad, superficial knowledge.

🤷‍♂️ You can’t name the strengths and weaknesses of your close teammates. (For extra points: you can’t name your close teammates.)

🚫 You consider all meetings a waste of time.

🧑‍💻🧑‍💻🧑‍💻 Teamwork equals the added-up work of its individual members.

📜 You have universal rules and principles that can be applied to every situation.

😡 Imperfection infuriates you.

🙋 You know how something should be done properly, and you don’t make compromises on that.

🏗️ What was built is more important than what was learned.

🧠 You believe the smartest, most technically skilled person should lead the team.

I want to be clear: these are not false statements or bad opinions in general (at least not all of them) – but they might show that management is probably not the best career path for you. And just because you check a handful of boxes here doesn’t mean you can’t become an amazing Engineering Manager! You just have to make sure that you understand deeply what this role means, and what is it within you that might hold you back from fulfilling that. Work on some skills, and unlearn some behaviors that might have served you well in getting to where you are now, and you will be a great EM if this is what you want to do.

Next, I’ll focus on traits and preferences for the managerial track. Sign up for my newsletter to get notified when it comes out, and receive articles about how to become an effective Engineering Manager and other related leadership topics.

And one more thing: make sure that you’re not pushed into management against your motivation, or gaslighted to believe that this is what you want if that’s not the case. I’ve seen organizations (unfortunately, I was part of some too) where promotion necessarily meant getting into management. This is not the only way to increase your impact. (If it is at your company, think about how this limits your future and what else is left for you to learn there.) You can also have a rewarding career focusing on architecture design, technical strategy, and similar areas.

Update: the second part of the article is live here: 22 Signs That Point to an Engineering Leadership Career.

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