What Becoming an Engineering Manager Feels Like

A senior engineer who is on track to becoming an engineering manager for their current team asked me what it's really like when you become the engineering manager. When you get the title change, and you turn up the next day as the manager of the team. What does it feel like?

In the past, I'd talk about all the different things that change. The change of routine. Meetings filling up your calendar. Coding less. The many one on ones. Getting access to information that you did not have before. Doing admin and other chores you did not know existed. But this has nothing to do with how it feels that first time.

It feels lonely.

The other day, you had your team, and you were one of them. The next, you're the manager. You now have an invisible wall between you and them. They're no longer the group you can share all your problems with. You can't just speak your mind without thinking. People act different when you crack that exact same joke you did in the past.

While you have a team, it feels like you lost a part of your real team. And you don't have a new one. Not yet.

Over time, this strange feeling will pass. You'll get the hang of things with your team, whom you get to know, in many ways better than you did before. You'll find a new group you can call your "new" team where no topic is off limits. Your first team. A group of managers in the org. A mentor or two, who've gone through a similar journey.

You end up opening up to your manager far more than you expected you would. It feels odd. That now, as a manager, you have more in common with your own manager than you do with your directs.

But when you start, it feels like when moving to a new city. Surrounded by many people, having many things to do. A new world to explore. But when the adrenalin rush wears down, you catch a break after the first few days or weeks and reflect on what it's really like: yes, it's exciting. You know it would be. But it's also something else. Unexplainably lonely.

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Gergely Orosz

Writing The Pragmatic Engineer Newsletter and advisor at mobile.dev. Previously at Uber, Microsoft, Skype, Skyscanner.

Amsterdam, Netherlands