How engineers can rise up to management

The path to becoming a great leader can be taught, but human nature dictates that those with a natural aptitude to trail blaze will excel. In certain industries, however, management ascension can also be assisted by being excellent at your core job. In the realm of engineering, this is often the case. Many CTOs or engineering managers have faced the challenge in their rise of ranks of finding a balance between leadership duties and the itch to keep coding.

It is clearly emerging that the best leaders for engineering and tech teams are those that are grounded in technical competence. It is almost a symbiotic relationship of leadership and empathy based on shared knowledge.

We look at four pillars of engineering management, focusing on leverage, innovation, trust and efficiency.

Leverage: Protecting your assets

The hallmark of a strong engineering manager is a leader that has the vested interests of their team at heart. This means ensuring time for the manager and staff is kept streamlined. Onerous meetings can create clutter in the path to productivity. Empowering engineers with the ability to choose which meetings they attend can help them be in control of their flow state.

This can extend to the office environment; investing in noise-cancelling headphones or creating a relaxed and nurturing environment can help engineers concentrate and increase productivity –  think Google HQ.

Innovation: The algorithm of risk with chaos

In the current competitive climate, innovation is everything. It is the secret sauce that can take a company from struggling to stratospheric, in terms of success.

Technology companies are forged and destroyed by the power of innovation. It was tech that taught the rest of the world how to innovate. The key take-away from the digital boom was that structure can be stifling. Freedom from corporate bonds allows magic to happen. This may be allowing engineers one day a month, or a portion of their work time, to devote to ‘passion projects’ or holding hackathons, even hosting a quarterly day where personal projects are delivered as a show and tell-all. These initiatives help loosen the confines of creativity and allow innovation to thrive.

Trust: Humans vs tech

In technology, the reliability of service is what keeps users hooked. Google cannot afford downtime; millions of users would riot, and a network outage for Telstra would be catastrophic.  Trust matters – not only for the public, but for engineers, too. Allowing engineers to be in charge of the stability of their own services enforces ownership and better products.

Human accountability is at the heart of all technological endeavour and progress. Engineers often learn the most when they are forced to firefight and resolve the issue. Being put in the spotlight during an emergency also enforces teamwork and trust. With time ticking, all parties must trust each other to pull their weight and save the day.

Efficiency: Not just for the boardroom

Efficiency often feels like a corporate mandate with little understanding of the day-to-day ramifications for the engineer. But with an engineer manager in charge, the communication to the troops can be more meaningful. Engineer managers have the ability to understand the hidden complexity associated with team efficiency issues and make it easier to communicate with the team.

In the end, the most valued resource that needs to be efficiently managed is not product cycles, but human cycles. For engineering professionals wanting to develop their management skills, a Master of Engineering (Management) online can accelerate career prospects. To learn more, speak to an RMIT Student Enrolment Advisor on 1300 701 171.