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

This post lists the key insights from this article, from the head of Product Engineering at Quora, Osman (Ozzie) Ahmed Osman.


Dual Ladders

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”.

What’s the purpose of the dual ladder?

  • Avoiding the Peter Principle. Engineering and management require different skill-sets, so if a technology company always “promotes” its best engineers to managers, it will end up converting great engineers to bad managers.
  • Attracting, retaining and motivating engineers. If engineers feel like their only path to growth is management, and aren’t interested in it, they might not join, or they might leave, or just stay and not be that motivated.

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.

Understand management because it shapes your system

By system, the author means 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? You’ll go through that process. Performance management? You’ll go through that process, too. 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.

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.

2 min​ read

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