Vladimir Klepov as a Coder

From engineer to manager: what I love, what I hate

It's been almost 2 years since I moved to a team lead role, then to a full-time engineering management position after the expansion of our team. I've been a front-end developer for 7 years before that, and initially I took the "advanced individual contributor" career track before doing the management turnaround. How's it been? Bumpy, but fun. In this article, I'll share the things I love and hate about my current job.


Let's start with the positive side of management positions. There's plenty to love, honestly.


First things first, I adore the power to improve the product we're building, and the overall team well-being that comes with a management position.

As an engineer, you'll sometimes find yourself in a tough spot with little to no power to change things. Early morning standups are a chore? Code quality sucks? The new feature makes no sense? As a manager, the power to change is yours: you get both the formal and informal authority to change things for the better, and to make yourself and your team happier.

Your words have weight. If you, an IC, say "guys, we really should write tests", everybody goes "oh, crazy old Vladimir, all grumpy again, haha, where do you see tests fit here?". If you, an EM, casually say "guys, we really should write tests", you might be surprised to find the tests unexpectedly growing in different places. Pleasant.

Career opportunities

Being an engineering manager is a more promising career opportunity than an engineering track. This might be controversial, but hear me out:

  1. The EM is normally higher-paid than the basic team-level engineering grades (junior / middle / senior).
  2. There are higher IC grades (staff, principal, president of code, whatever) in the EM+ salary bands.
  3. These staff+ IC jobs are concentrated in larger tech companies, because those have tougher technical challenges. Almost every software team in every company has a leadership position.
  4. The management career ladder is "taller" than that of ICs. Yes, the chances of becoming a CTO are slim, but it's an opportunity that's just not there for a pure IC with no management experience.

All in all, I believe the demand for EMs to be steadier than for staff+ engineers, and this path gives you more opportunities at the later stages of your career. On a related note...

Transferable skills

Management skills are more widely useful than an IC engineering role. A decent front-end engineer with React experience won't have trouble moving to another front-end framework, and can probably transition to a back-end / mobile engineering role with -1 grade (a year handicap or so). That's not bad.

What roles are available to someone with engineering management experience? First, you can easily take on a team with a wildly different focus — mobile developers, infrastructure, ML engineers. You'd need some time to get up to speed on the big-picture technical struggles of your new team, but most companies would take this shot. If you don't want to be an EM any more, you're well-positioned to move to a project or product management role.

If the entire tech market falls into decline, many management skills would still work for other industries. While I don't see a big flow of tech managers moving into construction business (tech does pay well), there's one alternate path to consider — entrepreneurship. Involvement with people and business decisions makes for great training before starting your own business.

So, being a manager gives you quite a bit of career flexibility, and makes you less vulnerable to future technological shifts.

Less knowledge rot

Suffering from front-end fatigue? Can't keep up with the newest shiniest frameworks and tools? Management's got you covered!

The "hot new" agile / kanban / scrum methodologies are 20–30 years old. The basic meeting types (demos, dailies, 1-on-1s) have been developing for centuries. At the core, you have teamwork and human interactions, which haven't changed that much since the beginning of humanity.

My grandfather was a big railroad boss in the 70s, and we can sensibly discuss some of my work challenges. "Oh, you have this talented slacker? Give him some big important task, let's see what he's worth." When it comes to computers, he's more like "I'd like a shovel big enough to throw all your silly gadgets into stratosphere."

So, if you're tired of keeping up with the latest hot thing in tech, a management role can provide a well-deserved relief. Do keep an eye on what's happening on the tech side of things, but there's no urgency, and no need to get real deep.

New challenges

Frankly, after 4–5 years of working in a particular tech area, you can solve the vast majority of practical problems well enough. If you want some work challenge, you can:

  1. Slightly alter your stack — say, a new FE framework. But it's unlikely to keep you engaged very long.
  2. Make a broader career shift — e.g. frontend to backend. This would probably give you another couple years of fun, but such transitions are, in my experience, either random (e.g. your BE dev quits and someone has to fill the role), or hit your salary.
  3. Invent problems out of thin air — rewrite everything using a new library, or handle 9000 RPS "for the future". Fun, but most of the time it's more harm than good for your team and business.

Of all the possible career moves a seasoned engineer can make, switching to management gives you the most new challenges (years worth of new stuff to learn) without hitting your salary.


As much as I like the challenges and impact of my new role, and the practical career benefits, I'll be the first one to admit it has downsides as well.

Corporate BS

As an engineer, I hated bloody corporate BS: individual performance reviews, useless deadlines, company-enforced restrictions on processes and tech stack. Well, congratulations, as a manager you are the sheriff of these practices, whether you believe in them or not.

As a leader of a team in an org with performance calibrations, I must nominate 1 person who hasn't been working hard enough every 6 months. This human chess is soul-sucking, but I can't make it go away — if I don't offer a sacrificial teammate, someone will be picked randomly further down the process. Crazy shit.

Sometimes you can negotiate a bit, or hack the process, e.g. assign "below-expected performance" on a round-robin basis, but to your team you'll sometimes be the corporate monster. Sigh. And I haven't even been through the real tough stuff like layoffs, closures and reorganizations.

Awkward social situations

I've made it to an engineering management position by being good at building stuff. I've been prepared to help with technical decisions, give career guidance, tune processes and set up automation as needed. In fact, a large portion of my job is debugging social tensions and psychological insecurities of people.

Your junior engineer comments out a few tests to deploy a feature preview. The QA person sees this, and is very pissed because your whole team apparently does not respect the QA role and the value they provide. Restore trust.

A project manager makes an unsuccessful joke that hurts your designer, who's now crying. Make the PM apologize. Am I a kindergarten teacher or something?

Boy, I'm no psychologist, and I can't say I'm exceptionally good with people. This part of my job is quite hard, trying to fake it til I make it here.

Office hours

Life of an engineer is relatively relaxed. If you don't have anything urgent, you can go lay on the grass for half a day, thinking about the future of your project or something. You can miss a few meetings on short notice, no questions asked.

Now, you're an EM. Try going and lying on the grass for a few hours. You come back to a messenger full of problems: your intern can't work because she forgot how to npm install; a senior manager wants to discuss some potential feature; release has derailed. Also, you can't really skip a meeting you're supposed to facilitate / organize without some up-front preparation.

This might improve as your team matures and builds better processes, but in general you feel office hours much more as a manager, and your work-life balance directly depends on how good you are at your job.

Long feedback loop

The final thing I hate about management is the long feedback loop of your actions. Most engineering tasks show the result quite fast: new features take weeks to months, and if that's too long for you — fix a bug and see happy users the next day, or refactor some code and watch complexity decrease in a few hours. Amazing!

You're a manager? Well, very few of your actions produce a visible result in under a month. Suppose your team has grown too large, and you want to split it up. You must pick a well-rounded set of engineers for the new team, talk to everybody involved to see how they feel about such a change, arrange new regular meetings, set up processes and communications, do some jira magic, maybe isolate the codebases of sub-products. If you think it can be done in a week, well, you're wrong.

Then, even the right changes can make things get worse before they get better. Say you're understaffed, and you decide to hire. In the short term, you spend hours and hours interviewing, and a new team member won't get up to speed right away, sucking out precious time for onboarding. It's sometimes hard to see the long-term goal behind the short-term inconvenience.

So, while engineering problem-solving is often fairly straightforward, management changes are more similar to large-scale refactorings. You won't see any quick improvements, which can be frustrating.

To sum up, moving from an IC engineering role to a management position has been a rollercoaster ride for me, with both bright and bleak spots. Here's what I love:

  • The wider impact on the product and team.
  • Management is a great long-term career track: it gives you more job opportunities than a staff+ IC, the flexibility to move between different technical areas and roles, and skills that will be relevant across various industries for years to come.
  • If you're bored with your field of tech expertise, moving to a management role is a great way to bring the challenge back into your job.

And here's what I hate:

  • Enforcing corporate decisions and policies can be soul-sucking.
  • Dealing with social tensions and psychological insecurities of people isn't something I was ready for.
  • It's hard to go offline even for a few hours without preparing in advance.
  • Your actions have long and non-linear feedback loops with very delayed gratification.

Now, is this career move the right one for you? If you enjoy challenge and responsibility, and you get an opportunity — I'd say go for it! Yes, management is not a fit for everybody (I'm not even sure it fits me TBH), but it's a great experience that would surely expand your skill set and make you see engineering work from a new angle. If you totally hate it, you have plenty of time to go back into coding =)

Hello, friend! My name is Vladimir, and I love writing about web development. If you got down here, you probably enjoyed this article. My goal is to become an independent content creator, and you'll help me get there by buying me a coffee!
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