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Under Engineered

Life as an Engineering Manager

Although I’ve been an IC for about 10 years I never considered myself less than any Manager 😉. I’d always think being a Manager wasn’t particularly a hard thing. All you needed to do was

Go home and chill!

Until I became one. Even more if you are starting somewhere new, leaving the comfortable tech landscape you’d have helped build in the past as a Senior Engineer/Tech Lead.

And in no time you get added to a dozen meetings, some specific to projects and others org-wide including few where you see Exec Leadership (Directors/VPs/SVPs and above) deliberating about important programs and strategy.

You find out that your context and understanding of how systems work here is nowhere even near satisfactory. There are 14 big projects going all at once — how can you possibly be on top of everything?

Until you hear your name called out on a Zoom meeting to update on the progress and challenges along with a plan. But you’ve got no idea about the work item as you forgot to check the Jira status and when you finally click the ticket while still on mute — you see it hasn’t been updated in the last 7 days. Gosh!

You deflect saying that you’d come back by EOD and take an AI on you. As soon as the meeting ends you join another and are pulled into 2 separate Slack huddles about an issue where the pipeline is failing and an important architecture decision pending since 2 weeks.

It’s 8.30pm and you’re totally spent. But there’s so much to be done and you promise yourself that after a short 30mins break you’d get right back to your to-do list. But you don’t. Life happens and the AI you took in the afternoon meeting has completely slipped out of your sight and mind too.

Meanwhile Slack is brimming with new message notifications in 20 different channels (you got added to 7 of them in just the last 3 hours). You’re mentioned on 12 different threads and each has more than 40+ replies with people asking your inputs/decisions/way-ahead which you’re yet to even read let alone respond.

While all of this was happening you cancelled two 1:1s with your direct reports citing that you’re stuck in another meeting and will reschedule when both parties know that’s a lie and it’s not going to happen. Your direct report had a lot of stuff to talk about but he/she will log off disappointed and wait for another 2 weeks before the recurring event happens again. In an internal private group your directs would talk amongst themselves today that they’re on their own, the Manager can’t even show up.

Next day you get up a little early to make-up for the lost time of yesterday and focus. 30 mins in; 2 pager-duty alerts go off and you find yourself on a Zoom bridge with 17 other people trying to douse out a fire. It’s almost lunch time when the issue is finally resolved, metrics recover and you huddle with the team to get the RCA out because it’s due tomorrow.

Next week you’re again in the same Leadership call with the last time’s pending AI still dangling over your head and you realise that you couldn’t get the status yet again because the person didn’t reply to your ping from yesterday (which you forgot to follow-up) and is on leave today due to a legit family emergency. You know there’s only so much leeway you can get before being judged on the call and being called out (rightly so). You curse about working in a remote environment and how easy it would’ve been in an office setting. You know you’re fooling yourself.

Just yesterday it was the beginning of Q2 and today it’s Q3 already. You’re way behind on planning of your OKRs. The last extension has run its deadline and tomorrow you’ll have to present and defend your top objectives and key results with initiatives and resource planning. You work through the night re-prioritising that excel sheet 26th time in the last 2 days. At 3.40am you finally have something that looks ambitious and achievable enough to be presented.

You check your calendar in the morning and immediately realise the blunder which happened yesterday where a new overlapping meeting hid the fortnightly Exec Program Review. Your heart skips a beat , 4 actually. Because you’ve not even started writing the report for the Avengers program and it’s due in 4 hours. Avengers is a cross-functional project between 3 teams and you had to present the collated progress, metrics and any risks with a new path to green. You skip lunch while frantically typing into that Google doc juggling between 5 Google sheets, 2 Jira Dashboards and a huddle with 2 other Engineering Managers, 4 PMs and a TPM. Somehow you finish the report, though sloppily and swear never to repeat it again.

Four months into your tenure, the mid-year promotions are announced and that direct-report’s promotion has gone through who you pitched and defended in that brutal calibration meeting. The painstaking effort of creating the promo-packet (fancy word for Google doc) by going through the entire year’s work (PRs/Jiras/Slack/docs) and stacking up irrefutable evidence of consistent next level performance paid off. You felt as if you got promoted. Convincing promo panel in the first attempt — no small feat.

2 months later you find yourself on a call where the project everyone’s being working is finally rolled out and numbers start trickling in. You wait another 2 weeks for metrics to stabilise before counting it as a win. You block your calendar for the next 30 mins, snooze all notifications and type a celebratory note feeling massively proud of your team. As you send that note to the #general channel you notice 4 new DMs blinking in your inbox asking for approvals, requests for a quick catch-up and 2 Hellos. You get busy again.

At the end of the day you check your Mentions tab and see the celebratory post has 14 ♥️, 23 🚀 reactions and 6 replies. Life’s good again and tomorrow will be a fresh new day, albeit packed with meetings.

But such is life.

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