Women in Tech October: How to Manage Your New Manager
Ruth took us through their journey of moving from an individual contributor as a tech lead to the engineering manager of a team, and the hard lessons learned through the transition.
This was interesting to hear, as I've heard from a few colleagues who've made the jump that they've had similar concerns. I'm also just starting with a new manager as part of a move to a new team, and so was very interested to hear if there are any tips that Ruth could share for working with a new manager.
Ruth first talked through how communication styles can be different, because asking someone to "keep you up to date" doesn't necessarily tell them that you want to know three times a day how things are getting on. And a direct report saying "I'm blocked" is different to the more actionable "can you please work with that team to unblock this work?" Ruth recommended making the implicit explicit, making clear when there are deadlines, and what is expected on both sides. The day after Ruth's talk, I was already putting this into practice with one of the asks I'd had from an architect at work, making sure I clarified whether finishing some work by the end of the day would be OK - and that worked great!
Ruth also mentioned about how different it is between engineering and management, as when you're working on more technical problems, there's more immediate feedback. But when you're solving people-oriented/organisational issues, things take time to progress, so it can take a while to be able to get feedback on whether the changes you're making have actually worked.
Ruth also talked about how, as a manager, you shouldn't be coding. The whole point of moving to people management is for the people, and holding on to the coding will result in a poor team dynamic, and the fact that your team won't have an actual people manager to support things. It's a different role completely - not a direct promotion - and you need to accept that there are different responsibilities.
Because this is difficult for managers, and because they'll want to get involved in technical discussions, but aren't sure whether their input is helpful, we as direct reports should be communicating what level of technical leadership we want from our manager, to help them balance their role.
Ruth also spoke about how your training as a manager doesn't cover everything that's needed for your role as a manager, as no one tells you how to answer "can I book holiday?" or how to respond to concerns over mental health. Managers are doing their best - again, try and help them where possible, and appreciate they're doing this all for the first time!
And finally, Ruth spoke about how as a manager, it's a very different dynamic, as you're the boss now. Being friends with your team is hard - and likely unnecessary - but getting on with them is important. But at the same time, you need to be careful not to overstep and spend too much time with the team, as you being there changes the dynamic of the conversations, and you need to give them time to socialise without you. As a manager, you have to learn to socialise with other managers. Ruth mentioned that it's good to let your manager know "it's OK to want to give us space" to nudge them to realising that, and also that it's important to make it clear to your manager when you want them to give you advice as a friend vs your line manager.
My biggest take away was that as a direct report, regardless of whether your manager is new to management, or maybe just new to managing you, there's so much that you can do to help make things easier for them.
As someone with a new manager, I'm looking forward to working together and building a new relationship up, with a lot of bidirectional learning!