22 Signs That Point to an Engineering Leadership Career

22 Signs That Point to an Engineering Leadership Career
Tsukioka Yoshitoshi: Ōishi Kuranosuke Yoshitaka, Leader of the Forty-Seven Loyal Retainers (1881)

Last week, I wrote about the opinions and behaviors that could suggest someone may face challenges in an Engineering Management career. This week I’m focusing on the other aspect: characteristics and preferences that would make me think the person could be a great Engineering Manager, should they choose to pursue leadership.

Side note: to my surprise, I found creating this list was harder than the other one. Just because someone displays a few of the behaviours below, or holds those opinions, they might be a horrible manager, and I don’t want to suggest otherwise. Also, I guess bad examples are easier to spot.

So here it is, a random list of reasons, signs, and opinions that could make you consider going into Engineering Management:

🤹‍♀️ You can manage interruptions and context switches — and protect your focus time for deep work.

🔥 The most important skill during a Production Incident is communication.

🧹 A Merge Request with more deletions than additions gives you a sense of satisfaction.

🤗 Candidates enjoy interviewing with you.

🧑‍🏫 When you learn something new, you can’t wait to share it with the team.

⏱️ The waste of everyone’s time in a disorganized meeting disturbs you more than the pressure of stepping up to facilitate.

✅ Done is better than perfect.

🎯 During the discussion of a new project proposal, your questions focus on the goal and the problems the team aims to solve, rather than how you plan to implement them.

☕ You grab the new guy for a coffee on their first day.

💡 A seemingly pointless process encourages you to understand its creator’s goal and then to figure out if there are ways to improve it.

⚖️ You often find yourself breaking up technical debates by proposing a pragmatic common ground.

🎢 Sometimes you’re more excited about your team than the tech stack you’re working with.

🧑‍🧑‍🧒‍🧒 You notice who didn’t say a word during a meeting and start to get curious about what they think and why they don't speak up.

🎛️ The amount of unaddressed tech debt is just one of the many levers we can adjust to stay in the optimal place within the quality – speed – cost triangle.

📚 If someone succeeds on the first try, they haven't learned anything.

🚫 You fear big bang rewrites instead of getting excited about them.

🤔 Your questions aim to understand the idea better, not disprove it.

📝 You spend time writing (and even more time maintaining!) documentation.

🚀 You understand the Multiplier Effect optimizing a frequent task can have (such as a build process on the CI making every developer faster) — but you’re also familiar with the Law of Diminishing Returns: you can finish when further work is not worth the effort needed to invest.

🎲 You can be comfortable in having to make a decision based on the limited information available.

👵 You can explain what you worked on today to your grandma.

🔍 You are excited about an opportunity to speak with a customer using your company’s product.

This list, like the flip side of it, is opinionated. People might be efficient leaders just because they disagree with a few points. On the other hand, please don’t push someone to management if that’s not what they want to do, even if they seem like a good match. A lot of the skills and values I hinted at above are also great assets for a purely technical leader, like a Staff Engineer.

I intended this list to help with self-reflection and clarity on career goals. You need to feel a calling to Engineering Management. Mine was the goal of helping people be the best version of themselves — both directly, and both by creating an environment that supports them. Yours might be something else. Either way, it should be personal, not something pushed on you by unfortunate circumstances and inexperienced managers.

I write about Engineering Leadership topics. Sign up here to receive my future articles by email.

Subscribe to my newsletter

I write about engineering leadership topics.
Sign up to receive new articles.