Allow Me To Solve Your Engineering Manager Hiring Problem
Amy Writes Words, #16
Hello! Are you short an engineering manager or three? Having a tough time hiring? Wondering where are all the good managers, or directors, or VPs? Getting desperate?
Guess what! I bet you have some people who would be great managers already on staff. They might even be kinda already doing management-y stuff, especially if you’ve been short on managers.
They started your front-end guild, or they are always the first to answer someone’s question in slack (even if they don’t exactly know the answer, since they know if they go in and answer wrong someone else who does know the answer will be compelled to correct them), or they have been running retros or they’re active in the tech community so they’re always referring people to your company (and they always volunteer to interview as well).
Or they started an ERG or they run the mob programming afternoons or they organized the hackathon or they gave the company-wide presentation about the chatbot integration or they planned the welcome lunch for the new engineer.
Or they did all those things and also maybe they’ve even mentioned to you that they might like to manage, or have in fact applied to an open management role at the company, but you didn’t consider them.
You didn’t consider them because you don’t notice the work they are already doing that is leadership or managerial-type work, or because you think there’s some vague something they are missing which means that they are not yet ready or may never be ready to manage.
You might say that vague thing is more technical chops, so that they’ll “have credibility” with the team.
You might say it’s something to do with strategic thinking, or perhaps assertive communication, or leadership qualities, or confidence, or business savvy or, I dunno, the list goes on.
But are you sure that the thing that is missing is not simply a masculine presentation?
Are you really sure?
I think you might want to look again, though.
I bet you have women and nonbinary engineers on your staff already who in fact would be excellent managers. People who in fact are already doing leadership work that they are not getting credit for (especially if it’s DEI work which everyone knows is often only credited on someone’s way out the door, in a goodbye email). So I bet you can solve at least some of your engineering manager hiring needs with internal people, if you deliberately force yourself to reconsider what a manager (or a director, or a VP) looks like and what the work they do is.
Why do I say this?
Well, I’ve been around this industry for a while, and I talk to lots of women in engineering, and increasing numbers of nonbinary folk as well, and something I hear all the time is “I’m kinda the lead, I guess? But I don’t have the title?” and “It feels like the work I am doing is manager-ish work but they said I needed to focus on my coding” and “I made the case that we needed a manager for our team but then they promoted the guy who produced the most code into the role”.
I hear this again, and again, and again. I’m fucking sick of hearing it.
Women and nonbinary engineers are doing all kinds of work to make their teams work and for the most part they will not see that work recognized. They will not see it recognized in their reviews or their compensation or their titles, because people do not pay attention to it, or because people don’t think it’s important, or because people think they are missing something else they must have before they can get the title that would actually reflect the work they are doing and are capable of taking on more of, right now, today.
Moreover, they are almost certainly better at this work than people think they are because they are doing it against headwinds. They have neither maleness nor titles to help them out. This means that whatever in the way of management or leadership work they are accomplishing they are doing entirely on their own time (because if they produced less code in order to do more of this work people would complain and tell them to focus on the code). It also means that they have to rely entirely on persuasion and force of personality to get it done because they have no title (or not a senior enough title) to indicate that other people should do what they say.
So, there you go: why don’t you sit down right now with a list of your staff and find the women and nonbinary engineers who seem to maybe be doing that sort of work or have that kind of influence or have brought in a lot of recruits, or who even have mentioned they might like to manage someday, and then why don’t you give them the title. (If this is not possible because your engineering team is entirely male, please see the footnote for remedial instructions.1)
And then, when you announce it to the team, acknowledge all that work they have already put in2, and then you watch them fly.
You’ll be shocked at what more they can do with just a little bit of tailwind, which it is well within your capacities to provide.
But wait, what if they are no good? you ask.
Sure, it could happen.
Will they be less good than the state you’re in now, with not enough managers to go around? A state in which you are risking the burnout of the managers you do have, risking deteriorating morale and perhaps the preventable departures of key people due to lack of manager attention?
Will they be less good than that dude you promoted once who made his direct reports cry because he leaned into the wrong quadrant of Radical Candor, and you didn’t find out about it until four people had left the company?
Will they be less good than the dude who was a manager but who didn’t actually manage, who didn’t listen? Or the one who everyone knew got grabby when he was drunk, or the one who couldn’t recruit?
Is a not-man who you think might not be quite up to management for some vague reason you can’t quite put your finger on really going to do a worse job than any of these other possibilities? It’s certainly possible, yes, but if that happens you can fix it, because you’re a big kid engineering leader yourself and you know how to fix those kinds of problems, fast. Right?
Oh, and, god help us all, do you think you’re doing those not-men a favor by not letting them go down a manager track yet because it would be bad for their future leadership prospects, because then they will lack ‘technical credibility’?
Just stop with that.
I once worked for an EVP of technology who liked to send emails to the engineering team that had Word documents attached to them, and he insisted on describing these emailed Word documents as ‘blogs’, so please do not come at me with your technical credibility arguments. If you do, I will have to bludgeon you about the head with your mechanical keyboard. But don’t worry, I will be sure to refer to it as a blog.
Now that I have solved your engineering manager recruiting problem, I invite you to send me a recruiting bonus (venmo: amy-isikoff-newell). While you are at it, you can inquire about my engineering leadership coaching for your newly promoted managers.
And yes, sorry not sorry, I will be referring to Taylor Swift’s “The Man” again:
“I'm so sick of running as fast as I can
Wondering if I'd get there quicker
If I was a man.”
I mean really though, why wonder? The answer is always yes, of course. That’s how patriarchy works.
Now: Did you miss the panel on feedback I moderated at LeadDev Live? You can now catch it on video here! No I have not checked to see how I look or sound on this video, nor will I. But you definitely should, because whether or not I looked good or sounded intelligent, the panelists were all amazing and said some really useful stuff.
While I’m still not pursuing full-time work, I remain available for engineering management consulting or leadership coaching on a limited basis. Get in touch if you’d like to learn more!
I am also still offering my office hours for women and non-binary engineers, sign up here and please share with folks you think could benefit.
Reminder that I started another newsletter: “Woe: Mental Health Tips You'll Hate From The Saddest Woman In the World” and you can subscribe here: https://buttondown.email/woe It’s a weekly on Wednesdays short newsletter I’ll be offering at least through the end of the year.
Finally, 50,000 selfies later, I now do portrait photography and modeling. Get in touch if you’re in the Boston area and you want a portrait or you need a model. Finally finally, if you like what you just read and you’re not already subscribed:
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The TL;DR for the “wait, my team is entirely male” problem: if that is the case then what you do is you look around at other companies for the women and nonbinary engineers who are doing the kind of unacknowledged work discussed here and you hire them for manager roles EVEN IF you think you need an experienced manager who already has the title on their LinkedIn profile. You should probably also figure out what the hell you have been doing wrong that in 2021 your entire engineering team remains so male, and if you want your new manager to help you fix that problem then you need to empower them to actually do so, which means that you ask them what will empower them, not that you decide.
Yes, before they leave! you can publicly acknowledge even their DEI work even before they are leaving your company in disappointment and exhaustion, you really can!