As an individual engineer, what do you look for in a manager?

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You're an individual contributor, and you've just been informed that you'll have the opportunity to choose your next engineering manager.

What are the most important qualities you would look for?

What would be the biggest deal-breakers?

What sort of person would you ideally hope to find?

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They should be good at asking questions about my work.
They should keep in touch with me without interrupting me needlessly.
Meetings should cover a lot of ground and be over quickly.
They should be able to piece together conversations with a few people and keep up with what's going on.

Biggest dealbreaker would be if they didn't listen or change things up when it wasn't working.

I would hope to find someone that can understand the people they're dealing with and work with them.

 

Love this! I always say listening is the top skill for most managers, and, honestly, almost all of us are terrible listeners sometimes! But we can be good when we decide to.

 

I think the most important quality is being able to accept feedback and to appropriately take action. If I'm blocked on something and tell my manager that I need help, I'd like to know that I have his/her active support.

Biggest deal-breaker is having a manager who micromanages. I'm starting to realize that micromanagement may take on more subtle forms, and I think that managers should trust that their teams are capable in solving problems without their supervision.

 

Hey Jared, great question.

First, any of the things I recommend are super hard to figure out during the interview process because you really need to see how managers work in real life.

To Ben's point below, definitely look for people who are going to listen carefully to you. You can detect little slips and misses in some interviews even on the phone when it seems clear they're asking you the same question multiple times. Sometimes you didn't communicate your own point clearly enough, but sometimes you can just tell they're not listening. Listen to your own heart on that one because it's probably real.

Second, the best managers I've ever worked for made me feel like I belonged to something important. That may or may not be important to you right now but when you're working in a team there will come times when the work is hard, or the team seems lost, or the product isn't doing what you hoped it would in the market. Knowing that, at least you're part of, say "Michael's team, and Michael's team shows up and awesome work no matter what" (to cite my own example) may make your job and personal life a little more meaningful.

The biggest deal breaker for me, again it might show in an interview context, is when the manager-interviewer treats the interview as a one way, "I'll ask the questions, and you'll answer the questions, and I'll leave 5 minutes at the end in case you have any," format. I know why interviewers do it (sometimes they're just trying to be fair and follow a process or they are a little nervous themselves), but it's a huge turn off because I don't feel like we're forming a human connection.

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Jared Silver profile image
I build software to improve education. // Current: DataCamp // Past: Codecademy, TEDx, Quill.org, EdSurge, Higher Learning Technologies, Oppia.org
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