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Wednesday, November 9, 2005

Managing Your Peers

Managing Your Peers

There will come a moment in your career when you will face the stark reality that you have to manage some of your closest colleagues.

Further, if you are a top engineer, it is highly likely that the guys/gals you will manage are superstars too.

Things change when this event happens.

It happened to me. I went from being a prolific programmer to becoming an Engineering Director at a fast paced VoIP software company.

Here are a few tips that will help you through this transition:

  1. Don't compete: Resist the urge to code with your engineers. You might have all the technical answers but always remind yourself that you need to transition your engineering role to someone more competent. Use every opportunity to showcase your team.

  2. Face your shortcomings: Being a good engineer does not automatically make you a good manager. You have to work at it. Understand your personality. Have an honest discussion with your spouse or close friend about how you react in a variety of situations.

  3. Be positive: Be very optimistic about the things your team is working on. Don't drain people by complaining or gossiping. Yes, it is hard not to share all the things you know with your "closest" friends, but don't! Please!

  4. Trust your boss: The one person who can help you manage the transition is your boss. He can set you up in such a way that your team begins to see your value as their manager: Trust me, they won't see it initally. I had my top engineer ask me in a 1-n-1: What do you do for a living now?! It was a definite Dilbert moment :-)

  5. Find a mentor: Find a senior executive who would be willing to mentor you. I picked my VP of Sales and it is working great! He meets with me regularly and we spend time discussing a variety of topics except work.

  6. Sweat the little things: Compliment your engineers for their wins. Encourage them during difficult times. Socialize with your team. Take them out to a movie! Celebrate their birthdays and significant life events. Spend a lot of time writing performance reviews.

  7. Take it easy: Expect your team to tease you. Expect them to have a clique that does not include you. Give them space and don't overreact if you are not in the know! There will be at least one in your team who will have decided that he could be better at your job. If you think the same, GREAT! Get ready for a promotion, you have just hired your replacement :-)

  8. Deal with it: As a manager, you are now replacable. Just face the reality and be prepared to work much harder to justify your "value" to the company. If you miss the challenge of hands-on work, take up something else that excites you. I rekindled a long lost affair with photography. And I enjoy every moment of it.

This is one time in your career where it pays to be a fat fingered programmer!

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