My Philosophy of Engineering Management

There's a question I always ask when interviewing with (or for) an engineering manager: what's your philosophy of management. There's no "right" answer, but there's definitely a wrong answer and I'm always a little concerned when someone can't give an answer at all (I give a pass to junior or first-time managers).

What I'm trying to uncover with this question is what fundamental beliefs and priorities shape their daily actions and decisions related to everything from project management, team/organization design, hiring and mentoring. I'm not looking for a description of the actions themselves. For example, if someone says I don't like to micromanage, that's great but it's also a behavior and I'm more interested in understanding why they don't.

Considering the leverage that managers can exert, the often very-long feedback loop and the difficulty of managing through managers, it's critical that managers have a coherent philosophy and one that's aligned with the culture of the organization.

Here's the philosophy I've cobbled together over the years based on experience and thoughts from many other very-good managers and leaders.

Core Objectives

Although every organization has its own unique set of goals and constraints, there are few things that are always top of mind:

The Four Tenets

There are four core dimensions to the job which I use to frame every situation, decision and action:

  1. Strategy - Based on some desired or assumed future state, this is the collection of bets and the plan I believe will get the team there.
  2. Technology - Often a subset of strategy, this is the technical choices and tradeoffs that are made to accomplish some goal state.
  3. Operations - This is the collection of operational choices that are adopted to help organize people and work, and ensure that a team works at optimum output.
  4. People - These are all of the various hiring, staffing and organizational-design decisions.