Discover more from The Hybrid Hacker
Investing in Your Engineering Manager Career
How to Invest in your Career Growth as an Engineering Manager
One thing I often observe is that people are promoted to the Engineering Manager role, and then they become deeply absorbed in their new responsibilities. Some are lucky enough to receive coaching from their leaders, but many find themselves navigating the role mostly on their own.
During my first experience as an engineering manager, I found myself in this situation without the luck of having someone to coach me. I managed to survive, and learning the hard way probably had its benefits. However, I often wish I had invested more in my personal growth within this role and that I had known what steps to take.
This is why today, I've decided to write about this topic and explore the following areas:
💼 The different ways of investing in your career growth as an Engineering Manager
💡 Where to focus your investments to foster your career growth
So, let's begin!
💼 Ways to Invest in Your Own Growth
Investing in your professional development can take various forms, but it primarily boils down to two key resources:
The amount of time and money you dedicate to your career growth is subjective and depends on various factors. However, the crucial point is to allocate a portion of both and fully commit to your investment.
Time is your most precious resource and probably the first type of investment you'll have to plan if you want to grow in the Engineering Management role. Your schedule as an Engineering Manager can be demanding, but setting aside dedicated time for learning is essential.
For instance, as of today I'm committed to dedicate 2 hours/day to learning. However, this allocation can vary depending on where you are in your career and personal life. The main idea here is that it's essential to plan and stick to spending some of your time on learning.
Here are some tips on how to make the most of your time investment:
⏱️ Prioritize Learning: set dedicated time in your calendar for focused learning, treating it as important as work meetings.
🔄 Consistency Matters: establish a regular learning routine to reinforce your skills consistently.
📚 Embrace Microlearning: divide your learning into smaller, manageable sessions that suit your busy schedule.
🤫 Minimize Distractions: create a focused learning environment by silencing your phone, closing unnecessary tabs, and finding a quiet space.
Today, more than 15 years ago when I started my journey, internet is full of free resources. If you are just starting to delve into Engineering Management, there are plenty of resources you can access for free or at a low cost. However, as you progress in your career, you may find that investing more in your development becomes necessary.
Here's how to approach the financial aspect of self-investment:
Start with Free Resources: begin your learning journey with free online articles, open-source materials, communities and newsletters. These resources can provide a solid foundation without breaking the bank.
Evaluate Paid Options: as you advance in your career, consider investing in paid courses, coaching, and other paid resources. These often provide in-depth knowledge and hands-on experience that can accelerate your learning.
Quality Over Quantity: when opting for paid resources, prioritize quality over quantity.
Budget Wisely: create a budget specifically for your professional development.
While there's no rule of thumb about how much money you should invest in learning, my approach is to allocate a portion of my income to cover my learning costs. Personally, I allocate 5-10% of my income. However, it's important to note that there's no definitive right or wrong amount, as it depends on subjective factors. The key is to allocate some funds and use them for your learning and career growth.
Another valuable practice is to assign a value to your time. This becomes particularly useful when you have to decide whether it's worth investing in tools or items that enhance your productivity, ultimately saving you time. Here's a helpful article on how to calculate the worth of your time.
💡 Where to Invest
When it comes to investing in your professional development, knowing where to allocate your resources is just as important as the resources themselves.
Let's explore various areas where you can strategically invest to enhance your growth as an engineering manager. I also ranked every area in terms of money and time they can cost you.
Especially in a remote environment, where I have gained most of my experience, having the right gear can not only significantly impact your productivity and comfort as you work but also influence the way you are perceived as a manager.
While it's not necessary to make huge investments, it's essential to be equipped with the right tools to effectively carry out your job.
Laptop: unless you are a hands-on Engineering Manager (which ideally you shouldn't be), you don't need the latest, super-fancy hardware. Something reliable that you can take everywhere is enough. I use a MacBook.
Chair: when you have to sit for 8 hours (or more) per day, a good chair is crucial. There are plenty of excellent chairs available. Personally, I've owned a GT Omega Racing chair for 8 years now, and it still looks brand new. One thing I love about this chair is the reclining backrest, which is great for power naps.
Ergonomic mouse and keyboard: as an Engineering Manager, you will spend a lot of time writing, journaling, and switching between apps. Good ergonomic keyboards and mice are a must. Personally, I use an Anne Pro 2 keyboard and a Logitech Lift mouse.
Webcam: Especially in a remote environment, it's important to appear on the webcam, and a good webcam can make a significant difference. I use an Elgato Facecam, but there are many other excellent webcams available.
Headphones: Just like the webcam, people on the other end want to hear you clearly, and you want to hear them. A good pair of headphones that you can wear all day is essential. I'm quite picky when it comes to headphones, and so far, the only ones I've found to be reliable and comfortable for all-day wear are the Jabra Evolve 2 65.
There's much more you can invest in, such as external monitors (I'm quite sick about them, and I have four), lights (to enhance appearance during calls), external microphones, tablets, and phones. These items are not essential, so the choice is yours.
When it comes to optimizing your productivity and saving time during the day, there are various tools you can consider investing in. The choice of tools is highly subjective and depends on your daily routines, as well as other potential investments. Here's where I allocate my financial resources for tools:
• Akiflow ($14.99/month): I'm a strong advocate of time-boxing, and my calendar serves as my to-do list.
• Spark ($6/month): email (unfortunately) remains a crucial part of our daily lives. This email client simplifies maintaining a inbox-zero.
• Obsidian ($8/month): I've previously wrote about Obsidian, my preferred app for note-taking and journaling. Although the app itself is free, cloud sync comes at a cost. While alternatives like iCloud and Google Drive exist, Obsidian's syncing system is the smoothest for me.
• Turkeyblocker ($39 lifetime): this straightforward app helps you maintain your focus by blocking other apps, websites and distractions.
• Taplio ($52/month): I conduct a significant portion of my virtual networking on LinkedIn, where I post regularly. Taplio streamlines this process, enabling you to schedule posts, find inspiration, and manage contacts with a CRM. Be aware, the link contains a referral that will make me save some money on it.
When determining whether a tool is worth the investment, a key tip is to calculate how much time the application can potentially save you and then weigh it against the value of your time.
I admit, I'm not a great book reader, and unless I'm on holiday, it's very hard for me to read entire books. I have a super tight schedule during my day, and even if I don't sleep much, it becomes hard to read at night. That being said, books are a great way to learn and get inspired, so if you can manage it, you should invest in them.
Even though I'm not a regular book reader, here are five books that I've read and recommend for Engineering Managers:
While I'm not an avid book reader, I'm truly passionate about newsletters, and I believe that today, they are one of the best and most cost-effective ways to learn about Engineering Management through real experiences.
I recently made a Linkedin post where I compiled a list of many interesting newsletters for Engineering Managers. Some of them offer free content, while others have paid subscriptions.
If I were to select five of them to invest in, here is my list:
Coaching is perhaps one of the most underrated aspects of career development for Engineering Managers, yet it's fundamental. Learning from experience is powerful but also time and effort-intensive.
Coaching serves as a shortcut, allowing you to learn from others' experiences. Since it can save you a significant amount of time, it doesn't come cheap, which is why you need to choose carefully. Typically, coaches offer a free initial meeting, and this is where you need to understand if there's the right chemistry and if the person and their experience can help you grow.
It's a subjective process, and what works for me may not work for you, but here are some of the best coaches I know:
Omar Halabieh - Tech Director at Amazon, Omar has vast experience in coaching Team Leaders.
Luca Sartoni - Former Director at Automattic, Luca organizes a variety of cohorts for Engineering Managers who want to learn the practical way.
Irina Stanescu - Former tech leader at companies like Google and Uber, she is a highly experienced person ready to share her insights in coaching sessions.
Behnosh Esni - Former Agile Coach Lead at Spotify, she focuses on senior tech and product leaders leading other leaders.
Suzan Bond - She is a trained facilitator, leadership consultant, certified executive coach, and former COO.
Richard Donovan - Offers mindset-focused coaching for Engineering Leaders.
Dariusz Sadowski - Dariusz has 20 years of experience in the software development field and team leadership.
Pascalle Bergmans - Pascalle specializes in effective communication for managers, a vital skill for success in leadership roles.
Networking is a vital aspect of an Engineering Manager's professional growth. While it may not require a significant financial investment, it does demand a substantial amount of your time and effort.
Building a strong professional network takes time, and there are many ways to invest in it. Personally, I focus on three key things:
LinkedIn: there are many social networks out there, but LinkedIn stands out as the platform where you can connect with true professionals who not only offer valuable networking opportunities but also share insightful content and experiences that can help you grow.
Writing a Newsletter: much like LinkedIn, creating a newsletter serves a dual purpose. I can't stress enough how much I've learned through the process of writing a newsletter. Additionally, it's a fantastic way to meet new people and engage with experiences that I would have otherwise missed.
Conferences: despite being an introvert, I must admit that conferences are excellent places to expand your professional network. Meeting people in person accelerates the process of building meaningful relationships.
Prioritizing your well-being is a non-negotiable investment. While it doesn't necessarily require a substantial financial commitment, it does demand allocation of your time.
Taking care of your physical and mental health through regular exercise, mindfulness practices, and adequate rest is essential for your overall well-being. Time spent on self-care is time well invested, as it ensures you remain productive and resilient in your role as an Engineering Manager.
In my daily routine, I usually set aside 30 minutes for exercise. You don't necessarily need to go to the gym, but it can aid in maintaining consistency (though it comes with a cost).
As we've seen, there are many ways to invest in your growth as an Engineering Manager. Some of them are time-consuming, while others require financial investment. Regardless of how much time or money you allocate, the most crucial step is to start dedicating resources to your personal and professional development.
One last suggestion. If you've reached the position of Engineering Manager, it likely means your company values and trusts you.
If they haven't yet allocated a budget for your growth, you can use this article to persuade them. Just one request; if this article helps convince them, promise that you’ll purchase a subscription to this newsletter!
✌️ That’s all folks
That's all for today! As always, I would love to hear from my readers (and if you've made it this far, you're definitely one of the bravest). Please don't hesitate to connect with me on LinkedIn and send a message. I always respond to everyone!