Engineering management at Tines

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Written by Conor O'DonnellEngineering Manager, Tines

Things have been changing on the engineering team at Tines. With the team continuing to grow in size, we’re getting to the point where we have too many people to treat ourselves as one team with one manager.

So, we need to introduce a new role on our team - Engineering Manager.

As with any new role in an early-stage company, it’s important to define the role well before anyone actually steps into it. That feels especially important for this position - as everybody says, “People leave managers, not companies.”

We recently shared a Notion doc internally to make sure that everyone on the team was happy with the definition of this role. People read it, gave their feedback, and we iterated on it. After reading the final version and thinking about how we want to start hiring engineering managers next year, we decided to share what we wrote on the blog. After all, how we manage our teams is an important part of our approach to engineering here, and we want future managers and engineers to know what our approach is as they consider us.

Here, unedited, is what we wrote:

Engineering Management at Tines 

Management roles on engineering teams come in many forms in different companies. Here's how we approach it at Tines:

Engineering Manager is a separate role from Engineer, not a promotion.

Unlike many other companies, we don't see management as the only path engineers are expected to follow above a certain level. Instead, we see the management career path as a separate branch of the engineering career path.

  • Moving from Engineer to Engineering Manager is not a promotion; it's a change of role & responsibilities. Similarly, moving from Engineering Manager to Engineer (at any level) is neither a promotion or demotion.

  • Switching between these roles over time and sticking with one role indefinitely are both expected outcomes - neither is an indication of success or failure. This blog post from Charity Majors gives some background to this approach:

The best frontline eng managers in the world are the ones that are never more than 2-3 years removed from hands-on work, full time down in the trenches.

The best individual contributors are the ones who have done time in management.

And the best technical leaders in the world are often the ones who do both. Back and forth. Like a pendulum.

  • We don't require any engineers to spend time in a manager role eventually; however management experience will be advantageous when pursuing a promotion to the highest levels of our Engineer role.

Engineering Managers still do technical work, but management work is the top priority.

In some companies, managers are also expected to contribute a significant amount of technical work. In other companies, managers tend not to do any technical work at all. At Tines, we expect managers to make some technical contributions, but only as a secondary priority to management work. Managers shouldn't be postponing 1:1s in order to get a feature shipped.

  • To ensure that management work is not compromised in favour of engineering work, EMs focus on non-critical & non-blocking tasks where any delays in completion won't have a significant negative impact.

  • It can also be useful for EMs to focus on tasks that are unrelated to major ongoing projects - EM work involves a lot of context switching anyway, so working on this kind of task saves Engineers from being distracted from their main goals.

  • Continuing engineering work gives managers more insight into our systems, tools, and ongoing projects. This allows managers to be more aware of the experience of being an engineer on the team, helps when planning and prioritising future work, and gives more context when helping engineers to grow, ultimately making them better managers.

What do managers do?

The main responsibilities of a manager are:

  • Collaborating with engineers to plan and prioritise projects

  • Supporting and enabling engineers, including having weekly 1:1s with them

  • Communicating important information between their team and other teams & departments

  • Contributing to technical discussions, while preserving autonomy for engineers

  • Planning and supporting the development and growth of engineers

  • Helping to define our engineering processes

  • Attracting and hiring engineers

What should I talk to my manager about?

Your manager is the primary person you should talk to about:

  • How you're feeling about your job, your responsibilities, and your working environment

  • Your salary/compensation

  • Your career growth and development

  • Taking holidays/leave

  • Your performance

  • Thoughts you have about our team, our work, or the company in general that you'd rather not discuss more publicly, e.g.:

    • "{{name}} did a great job on the last project."

    • "If {{name}} could make smaller PRs, they'd be easier to review."

    • "I have concerns about how {{new_company_policy}} might affect me."

    • "I think it would be more inclusive if the team did {{thing}} instead of {{other_thing}}."

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