Engineering Managers -- Improve Success In Your New Job
What can you do to improve your success in a new job as Engineering Manager (EM)? To answer this question, we will start with your offer acceptance. We will assume you are already an EM and this role is not new to you. Stepping into an EM role for the first time requires a different kind of preparation which is a separate discussion. This post is for EMs who are switching companies, have interviewed, got offer(s), and have accepted the most suitable offer.
Once offer acceptance marks an end to your job hunt, shift your focus to onboarding, and beyond. Here’s a two-part plan. Part one is what you can do until the day of joining and part two is what you can do in the first 4 weeks after joining. This is not an exhaustive list of possible actions but should broadly apply to many EM roles.
As the joining date approaches, use your time to get familiar with your new employer’s business domain and tech stack. Brush up on your management fundamentals too. Let’s take a look at each one of these:
1. Business domain
The new business domain may be unfamiliar territory for you unless you are switching jobs within the same domain. In any case, you can either learn or reinforce your domain knowledge. This is the time when you will be able to glance at the broad terrain of this domain without getting lost in the details, which is unavoidable after you start on the job. Read an introductory book about this domain or read an advanced topics book if you are already familiar with the domain. The idea is to up your game on your domain knowledge. Find other resources on the web that can give you more information about the domain. Learn about recent advancements in this domain. Scan news about your domain and set up Google Alerts to keep up with new developments.
Ask the hiring manager about the tech stack you will be using. Also, find out what is on the technology roadmap for the next two or more quarters. List the key technologies or frameworks they use, including the infrastructure they use, and learn or brush up on these topics and learn the jargon. Once you start a new job, initially you may not find time to learn new things.
3. Engineering management fundamentals
Brush up on your engineering management fundamentals. This is an opportunity to reflect upon what you did well and what you could have done better. You could also brush up on your project management methodology skills. Starting on a clean slate allows you to do things differently. Hence, based on your past experience, think about what would you do differently this time.
This phase begins on the day you start your new job. In the first four weeks, focus on observing, networking, mapping the territory, and goal setting.
1. Connect and network
Your hiring manager will introduce you to the team, but if they do not (yes, people forget!), go ahead and do that yourself as soon as you can. Set up one-on-ones with your team members. Understand their view of the product and people. You also want to start meeting up with your peers, your superiors, product owners, and other stakeholders. During the 1x1s, focus on learning about their role and identify synergies. Understand their expectations from your role and identify co-dependencies. It can be tempting to spend too much time in the 1x1 talking about yourself; resist the urge. You do not have to prove anything to anybody yet, let your work eventually speak for itself, but it will take time. So, during 1x1s, ask questions, listen, try to understand, take notes, and ask about their biggest challenges and how can you help.
2. Get your hands dirty
Set up your dev environment. Put on the hat of an engineer in the team and list down all the pain points a new joiner will encounter during onboarding. As you go through this process, update onboarding documentation with new information which you find missing. If there is no onboarding documentation, create one! Start participating in team rituals. Go through the Jira issues (or whatever equivalent your team uses for an issue tracker). Ask questions on tickets, on team chat, during the standups, and other team meetings. Resist the urge to change things too soon – you may not understand enough about the product or the team to start making informed decisions yet. As they say, if a wall exists it is there for a reason. Do not tear down the walls too soon; you will be surprised by what else crumbles.
3. Get a foothold
By the end of the fourth week, strive to be in a position where you can answer questions from your stakeholders without having to consult your team. Don’t get me wrong, it is difficult to answer every question in this short duration, but aiming to do so will propel you in the right direction.
4. Set goals
Finally, within the first four weeks, you should have a good understanding of your role’s expectations. You should be able to explain what it takes to succeed in this role. This is best done by documenting your goals which you and your manager have agreed upon. Working hard without knowing your goals will sap your energy, enthusiasm, and morale.
By the end of the fourth week at this new job, you should start feeling at home. You are onboarded, and the next phase begins. From here on, you will contribute to business and deliver a measurable impact. These were the first steps to success in your new job. You are going to be amazing!