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Why All Engineers Must Understand Management: The View from Both Ladders

By John Lafleur 2 minutes read

TL;DR: If you work in tech, you’ve heard of the “dual career ladder”. As engineers grow, they can choose to climb the “technical ladder”, or they can climb the “management ladder”.

It’s commonly said that managers of technical teams should understand technology so that they can be effective.
Just like managers should understand technical issues, engineers should understand management issues to be effective.

Understand management because you need those skills

  • As you progress in your career as an IC, you will need skills like the ability to communicate with people on your team and outside your team, the ability to influence others, the ability to coach and mentor others, and so on.
  • These are all skills that are required of managers, but are still very useful for ICs. A manager without these skills will probably fail — an IC without them might just have a stunted career.

Understand management because it shapes your system

  • By system, I mean the people processes in your company or team. You’re likely to be on the receiving end of processes designed primarily by managers.
  • Recruiting and hiring? Performance management? You’ll go through that process. You’ll witness good management and bad management. You’ll have to manage up. You should understand those processes, why they are designed the way they are, their strengths and weaknesses. And every process has weaknesses.

So how can you learn more about all this?

One way to do this is to just ask your manager. Why do we do “calibrations” as part of performance management? Who decides who gets promoted? What are the dimensions you evaluate people against? Sometimes those processes are well-designed and work as intended, but sometimes they’re not. In either case, you should try to understand them.



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