Portrait of Nicolas Dular
Nicolas Dular
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To Engineering Mangement and back

Personal

When my professional career as a software engineer started, a friend asked about my career goals. I wanted to move to management at some point, so I half-ironically answered, “I no longer want to write code as soon as I turn 30”. He laughed as he didn’t believe me. “You enjoy creating things too much to quit programming”, he replied.

Fast forward a few years, and I became an Engineering Manager at GitLab. So one could say I achieved my career goal. However, after nearly one year of being an engineering manager, this is the story of me stepping back from engineering management.

Becoming a manager

Motivation

I always liked taking over responsibilities, helping others, and overviewing projects. These sound like good reasons to be a manager, so I thought it would be the next (logical) step.

Trying it out

Luckily, GitLab has a great process to try out engineering management before pursuing the role. There is:

There is always the chance to go back and be an engineer again. This safety net helped me to move forward, as there were many unknowns about the role:

So, I’ve done what I always do when I have no plan: I read a book. I jumped right into it when I got the chance and became an acting engineering manager, leading a team of eight engineers.

Starting the new job

My first weeks as a manager were overwhelming but exciting. It’s an entirely different job, and I had to learn more about the domain of the new team. Especially during the first months, I quickly learned how to coordinate, jump between multiple projects, and delegate.

My work schedule changed significantly compared to my time as an engineer. From 1-2 hours of weekly meetings to 10-14 hours. My impact was no longer measured by how much I shipped but by how efficient and happy the team was.

Instead of my code editor, I found myself tabbing through Google Docs, Gmail, Slack notifications, Spreadsheets, and my Calendar most of the day. I suddenly discussed compensation changes, hired people, and gave my direct reports feedback on their performance.

After a few months, I was unsure if I wanted to move forward with a promotion. Still, I realized how much more impact I could have in this role, so I went for the promotion. It took me a few more months to finally admit that I should have gone back.

Why I decided to step back

As an engineer, most of my manager’s work was invisible. But after nearly one year in the job, I know management is demanding, and I now see all the different challenges that come with it. For myself, I realized that the management challenges didn’t excite me enough compared to those I had as an engineer.

Another factor was my energy level. Due to the number of meetings (and being more of an introvert), I was constantly exhausted socially and emotionally after workdays.

I initially thought I had lost one year of experience as an engineer or was stupid for stepping down the artificial career ladder. However, the knowledge I gained by being a manager is invaluable. I learned how to be a more effective communicator, have an impact beyond my team, collaborate with multiple departments, and gain insights into the business. It made me a better engineer.

So, after all, my friend was right. I enjoy creating things too much to quit programming.