Out of all the roles in tech, there are two roles that have very different responsibilities yet often get blurred together.
I have been both an engineering manager and a tech lead in my career and it is important that you understand the difference between the two.
If your company doesn’t have separate roles for these positions, we will also cover what that means if you plan on being an engineering manager.
As the title suggests the role of the engineering manager is to manage the engineering team. This means that the majority of your time is going to be spent on people-focused activities.
If you don’t like meetings then you are in for a shock as the majority of what you will be doing requires a meeting. Out of a 40-hour week as an engineering manager, I would typically spend at least 30 of those either on a call or in a meeting room with someone.
People responsibilities for engineering managers include:
It is important that engineering managers have a technical background as they will often be required to participate in technical discussions as well as understand what the team is working on.
Even though most engineering managers started off as engineers it is unlikely they will spend much time coding once they become a manager. This can vary from company to company though.
There was an uproar at the end of last year when Elon Musk said that engineering managers should spend at least 20% of their time coding as well as managing teams of 20!
The more people that you are responsible for the less likely it is that you will have time to do any coding. Although this might not seem like much of an issue to start with it becomes more apparent when you go to change jobs.
The amount of coding that companies expect engineering managers to do will vary. Even though you might have the right people experience for the job you may be lacking in technical experience if you have spent the last few years as a manager.
This is why it is critical to try and stay up to date with new technologies and best practices even if you are not actively coding anymore.
Not all companies have technical lead as a title but there should be someone on the team that is considered the lead.
The tech lead’s role is to take care of all the technical aspects of the team. As a tech lead, you would be expected to take care of the following:
Tech leads also usually give presentations on technical topics and system designs. They will also work with the engineering manager on the technical roadmap for the product.
Tech leads spend considerably more of their time coding than engineering managers. It is typical for a tech lead to take on one of the more daunting long-term projects on the backlog as well as those that require more technical expertise to accomplish.
When they are not coding the other tasks are usually still technical compared to engineering managers.
If you are doing most of the above then chances are you are a tech lead even if your title doesn’t say so.
With the absence of an official tech lead title, it can easy for this role to be missed. Many companies will assume that all the work of the tech lead should be done by the engineering manager.
At small companies, this might work but as companies get larger, engineering managers in this position end up spinning too many plates.
If you are doing everything that is expected of an engineering manager and a tech lead with a large team, chances are that you are doing a few things badly or you are working very long hours.
This happens a lot in companies that either have relatively high turnover or have recently been on a hiring spree. Many companies that hired massively during COVID ended up with an imbalance of experienced to inexperienced people.
If you are leading a team which consists of mostly new joiners, they may not have gained enough domain experience to be able to put their technical knowledge to good use. Even a staff or principal engineer needs time to get familiar with a company’s unique problem space before they can be effective.
My advice, if you find yourself in this hybrid engineering manager and tech lead position, is to try and delegate some of these tech lead duties to the most senior engineers on your team.
It provides good experience for them and will hopefully lighten the load enough for you, so you don’t feel like you are drowning in work.
As seems to be the case with Twitter, some companies have unrealistic expectations of what an engineering manager can achieve in a day.
Don’t worry, I am sure they will book another meeting with you to discuss it!
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It took me 5 months to get 1,000 subscribers but nearly 8 months to get 4,000 watch hours. It is still mind-boggling that people have collectively watched my videos for the equivalent of 166 days straight.
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