30 May 2024 ~ 6 min read

Clarify your needs and expectations when moving to Engineering Management

A soft watercolor painting depicting the transition to engineering management. The background has a gradient from light blue at the top to light green at the bottom. In the center, a tree grows out of the ground, representing growth and development. The tree has strong, deep roots symbolizing technical skills and experience, a solid trunk for the transition phase, and branches. Gentle sun rays come from the top right corner, symbolizing enlightenment and guidance, and soft clouds are in the background, creating a calm and supportive environment. Watercolor splashes around the tree add an artistic touch. No people, text, or icons are included.

Transitioning to engineering management is a pivotal moment that typically starts as a conversation about promotion and increased compensation, which can influence our decision-making. There are many cognitive biases, like the framing effect, which shapes our decisions based on how our options are presented to us. As we make the decision to move into this new career path, a mismatch of expectations can quickly lead to frustration and ultimately to the transition back as an Individual Contributor. That phenomenon is also known as the “The Engineer / Manager Pendulum”.

Let's demystify this transition and set the stage for a successful pivot to management.

Starting from the beginning again

As we are planning this significant shift, it's essential to navigate the transition with clarity and purpose. The skills that propelled you to the Individual Contributor (IC) track are the foundation upon which you'll build new capabilities. As much as management is called a promotion, we are starting from the ground, meaning we are at the early stage of our career again. Embrace the mindset that, though management is often seen as a promotion, you're embarking on a journey of learning from the ground up. In the following figure, an exemplary skill set demonstrating the focus of the roles. As IC we focus on technological topics and the delivery of business value through it. Moving to the Engineering Manager role changes this significantly.

Your focus will pivot from purely technological expertise to nurturing your team, optimizing processes, and strategic planning alongside product management. This evolution demands a fresh set of skills, from coaching and mentoring to advanced strategic thinking.

Comparison chart showing the focus areas for Individual Contributors and Engineering Managers. The chart is divided into two sections. The left section for Individual Contributors highlights higher emphasis on Technology and Delivery with lower focus on People, Product, and Talent. The right section for Engineering Managers shows a balanced focus on People, Delivery, and Product, with moderate emphasis on Technology and Talent.

It is unlikely, when moving into this new role, any person has all the skills necessary to be successful. Therefore, it is important for new engineering managers to clarify how your employer will support you in this transition. Questions to ask:

  1. Who will support and mentor you through this transition period?
  2. Do you have internal trainings or workshops that can provide you with needed skills?
  3. Does a peer group exist where you can continuously exchange challenges and discuss solutions?

Ultimately, as much as you are investing into your growth, it is important to have an alignment on what your employer will do further besides the promotion. This way you make sure that from the start everything is set up for your long-term growth.

Are you ready for meeting madness?

When transitioning to a managerial role, the manager vs. maker schedule is often mentioned as one of the bigger shifts in your role.

It is significant to understand that moving the roles means you are switching away from the “flow state” where you want to be during your tasks. As a manager, you are expected to handle a lot of meetings about various topics. In case of career transition, your responsibility is now to keep your team in that “flow state” while you are talking to your stakeholders to clarify upcoming topics.

At this point, we need to start establishing routines for planning our day, week, and months ahead. There are a lot of strategies on how to improve your calendar, like color-coding, not full half or full hour meeting blocks or having clear boundaries when you block time for yourself.

You have to make a commitment

The growth path in engineering management is a marathon, not a sprint. Considering that the job market (as of 2023/2024) is tough, clarity in “Why” you are moving into management is crucial.

Take a second and reflect on your career journey when you started your first software project and where you are now. It is likely that at least 5 years or more went by in-between. Committing to a minimum of 3–5 years allows for the deep learning and adaptation necessary to thrive in a managerial capacity. Not only as growing into a role takes time, but moving into a managerial role comes with a shift from short-term feature development towards mid or long-term work.

Take hiring for example:

You have to develop a hiring plan, interview and hire, make sure that new joiners have a good experience and support the team in the transition from storming to performing.

In order to set yourself up for success, plan a continued self-reflection on Why you are moving to management, What you want to learn and Where you want to be after this period.


Embracing the shift to engineering management requires not just a change in role but a profound transformation in mindset and approach. As you reflect on this journey, remember it's about more than embracing a new title—it's about growing into a leader who inspires, enables, and navigates through challenges with insight and empathy. Document your 'why', engage in continuous reflection, and commit to your development. The path from individual contributor to effective manager is complex and rewarding, filled with opportunities for personal and professional growth. With the right mindset, support, and dedication, this transition can mark the beginning of a fulfilling new chapter in your career.

Headshot of Ferit Topcu

Hi, I'm Ferit ([feˈɾit]). I'm an Engineering Manager and Software Engineer (by ❤️) based in Berlin 🇩🇪. You can follow me on Twitter, connect with me professionally on LinkedIn or join me at the lovely Lunch Dev Community.