What Engineering Managers do

Managing teams

At Nebulab, we strongly believe in the value of competent, supportive management. Engineering Managers report to the Directors, and their responsibilities are:

  1. Overseeing the execution of client projects end to end. While we provide some guidance and best practices, EMs have complete freedom in how they structure and run their projects. In addition to coordinating engineering work and acting as informal project managers, you may find them helping out with product management, hiring, and anything else that's needed to ensure the client's success.
  2. Looking after the well-being and growth of their team. This might mean a lot of different things depending on the project and team composition. At the very least, it involves holding regular 1:1s with all team members, protecting their Investment Time and work-life balance, looking after their career progression through our Growth Framework and assisting the Directors with compensation reviews.

Being an Engineering Manager is a constant balance between serving the client and serving your team. The best scenario is when the EM finds a way to align the client's interests with the team's interests, so that they rarely (if ever!) need to compromise between the two. This creates a sense of community and belonging that leads everyone to identify as one team, working towards a shared vision.

EMs set their own standards

One thing you might notice reading this section is that, other than a few core rituals that we've consolidated throughout years of trial and error, there aren't a lot of strict rules when it comes to what EMs should do or how they should do it. That's an intentional choice, and there are two reasons for it:

  • EMs know their teams best. We don't want to constrain them with rigid lists of responsibilities that may or may not match what actually needs to happen on their project. A consulting firm calls for much more flexibility than a traditional product company, because we don't have complete control over the work environment. One client might need you to oversee their hiring pipeline for internal candidates, while another may prefer you to focus on coordinating the Nebulab team and writing some code yourself.
  • Rigid rules stiffen innovation. Nebulab is based on continuous learning and innovation, and telling people how they're supposed to do their job does not really play well with that principle. We're happy to show you how we do things on other projects, and we do have shared rituals and best practices in place, but we expect you to figure out whether any of that applies to your project, or if there's a better way to do things. You're also encouraged to share your own findings and innovations with the other EMs.

More than anyone else at Nebulab, Engineering Managers are expected to set their own standards. While other positions have more rigid responsibilities, Engineering Managers should do whatever it takes to keep things going in the right direction, and they up their game all the time. This might be a scary proposition, but it can also be incredibly exciting and rewarding.

Being an EM is a responsibility, not a privilege

Obviously, being a manager comes with a certain aura of authority and respect. With that said, good managers treat their role as a responsibility rather than a privilege. If you're an IC and you're considering the idea of transitioning to management, you should first think about the following:

  • You'll have less time for coding. Like, much less. While this varies on a per-project basis, most Engineering Managers do not get nearly as much time for technical work as individual contributors. Realistically, an EM can expect to spend half their time writing code and the other half in "glue work."
  • Your feedback loop will be longer. Management work typically has a longer feedback loop than technical work. When you write a piece of code, you know immediately whether it works or not. When you change a process, it might take weeks or months before you start seeing the impact of that change on the team. This can be discouraging, but it also helps you re-frame problems and develop long-term vision.
  • You'll be accountable for other people. As an IC, you're only accountable for your own performance, which you have full control over. Managers are accountable for the work shipped by people on their team, and they are expected to own team mistakes. This can be frustrating at times, but it's also a wonderful and stimulating responsibility to have.
  • You'll wear many, many hats. While all EMs are encouraged to regularly carve out time for reflection and focused work, being an EM requires you to continuously wear a lot of different hats, which inevitably leads to some multi-tasking. On the same day, you might find yourself grooming tickets, writing code and meeting with a vendor. This can be energizing if handled correctly, but it's a huge switch from the focused bliss of an IC's day.

These gotchas are not meant to scare you off from becoming an Engineering Manager, but we want to make sure you're aware of what the role looks like.

You should also keep in mind that becoming an EM is not the only way to advance your career here: in most cases, there will be room to increase your scope and responsibilities as an IC. Being a manager at Nebulab is a step sideways, not a promotion!