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From Engineering Manager Program to Hands-On Leader

September 24, 2023

Is an engineering management program for you? You wouldn’t be reading this if you haven’t already asked yourself that question. This crossroad is an exciting point in your career as you explore opportunities in management and software engineering manager programs.

Navigating more senior roles like an engineering manager, you may find you need to pursue a program more than an undergraduate degree. Deciding if pursuing a program that focuses on management is right for you is an important next step. The alternative would be enrolling in a program aimed at strengthening skills in computer science, systems engineering or web development.

Understanding the Role of an Engineering Manager Before Enrolling in a Program

Leadership roles come with different foci and responsibilities. Some are centered on software development. Others focus on team management. Engineering managers or technology leads, what satisfies you professionally should drive the next steps you take in your career and education programs.

There was a time when the tech lead and engineering manager came from completely different backgrounds and educational programs. The tech lead solved software problems while the manager handled logistical issues for the team.

That may seem like an odd separation of responsibilities. Today the roles are more blended so they can work together as a team. A tech lead should have an understanding of team dynamics. Similarly, an engineering manager should be versed in programming languages so they can make knowledgeable decisions.

This is where asking yourself questions about your professional passions becomes important. Do you prefer to code and be involved in engineering projects, or do you like to manage teams and support them? There are no right or wrong answers; what matters is discovering what drives your professional satisfaction.

If coding is your passion, you may find yourself dissatisfied as a manager. The opposite is also true. If management resonates with you, remaining a programmer won’t scratch that itch. Some people are fulfilled in management while others seek positions as tech leads.

If moving into management as an engineering manager is your goal, ask yourself if you are ready to pursue a suitable program to upskill and drive strategy on behalf of your team. Even the most talented individuals need direction to capitalize on their skills. As their manager, it falls on you to bring out their best qualities.

This responsibility encompasses managing schedules, dealing with personalities and keeping the team on track for deliverables. When it’s done well, watching your team thrive is a remarkable experience. This kind of success may seem effortless to those on the outside, but it’s due to the manager’s hard work behind the scenes.

Developing the skills to make that a reality comes with the tradeoff of stepping back from day-to-day work. An engineering manager simply doesn’t have time to both program and keep the team running smoothly. The best managers are still proficient in coding, but that is only a portion of their daily responsibilities. A coach may not be on the field, but their knowledge of the sport is what leads the team to victory.

Having a direct impact on the course of projects is another exciting part of the role. Do keep in mind, with the increased exposure at work, you also become responsible for mistakes that may occur. The rewards are greater, but the expectations are also higher.

Elevating Skills for an Engineering Manager Role with an Educational Program 

Enrolling in higher education to pursue a management role is something that should be done only if you are certain it’s the right professional move. A master’s requires time, energy and financial investment. With any investment, however, there is also the potential for reward.

One of the outcomes of completing a graduate program is learning how to be a hands-on engineering manager. The best teams simply can’t thrive with a hands-off approach. That is why developing skills and insights to become an engineering manager through a master’s program is so important. Remaining involved benefits you, the team and your company.

Your Skills

Being involved in the day-to-day is imperative for your leadership role. First, it keeps your skills sharp. In addition, exposure to the process allows you to understand the hurdles the team faces and how to develop solutions a hands-off leader just won’t be aware of.

A good understanding of the process also allows you to identify where you can apply new technology. Innovation is the backbone of this industry. Leading the charge to implement new processes keeps your company competitive.

Improving Your Team

Being hands-on allows for routine interaction, one of the best ways to understand team dynamics as well as individual performance. This awareness is invaluable in managing personalities and identifying synergies that lead to stronger work.

As a manager, your insights allow you to tap into your team’s strengths while developing a plan to elevate their performance. At the same time, being hands-on also gives a view into where performances aren’t meeting expectations.

This awareness empowers you to make team adjustments to drive optimal performance. There is true skill in maximizing the talents of your direct reports which is what you’ll acquire through an advanced engineering management program.

The Right Program Teaches You to Become a Hands-on Engineering Manager

Dedicating time to be hands-on is also a sign of being an invested manager. Taking on distracting or less glamorous assignments allows your team to focus on the exciting work. Actions like this help establish that you are part of the team and prevents an “us vs. management” sentiment.

When your direct reports feel supported, it makes them more open to working with you on finding solutions. Even more, it eliminates fear surrounding mistakes. It’s better for employees to feel comfortable talking to you about errors rather than hiding them.

These three areas are all important benefits to being hands-on. However, we’d be remiss not to discuss the careful balancing act that being hands-on requires. As with all management practices, it’s important to be cognizant of your impact on the team.

One reason to be mindful is the fact there are only so many hours in the day. It’s impossible to be the tech lead and engineering manager at the same time. In addition to that, being too involved with your employees’ day-to-day can lead to micromanagement. A good leader is focused on optimizing their direct reports’ performance rather than simply using them to carry out marching orders.

Being too hands-on can also stifle direct reports from bringing fresh ideas to the project. If an employee doesn’t feel they are heard, it creates friction between them and management. Hands-on shouldn’t interfere with your employees’ autonomy.

If this role of coach, mentor, manager and teammate sounds exciting, the most direct path to get there is pursuing a master’s degree in engineering management. Committing to an advanced degree signals to your company you are serious about your professional growth. And, of course, a master’s program has the resources to develop skills that may not be nurtured in your current role.


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Why Choose Steven’s Program to Become an Engineering Manager?

The master’s in engineering management at Stevens Institute of Technology is designed to prepare you for success in a leadership role in the real world. Our online courses focus on the technical leadership necessary to be a hands-on manager. Operation research, data analysis and logistics keep your critical skills sharp. At the same time, we also offer management courses for project management, leadership development, and decision and risk analysis.

In addition to carefully crafted coursework, Stevens is uniquely positioned to make your academic experience meaningful. Our online program has always been a priority and was designed with the flexibility to fit in your current schedule. You shouldn’t be forced to choose between an advanced degree and continuing to work.

On top of that, we are incredibly proud of the success of our alumni. Our program graduates have gone on to work as engineering managers at companies like BMW, Goldman Sachs, IBM and more. We truly believe our program opens doors and the stats confirm that—100% of MEM graduates in the Class of 2021 accepted job offers within three months of graduating. (Based on data from 63% of spring 2021 graduates who attended full time.)

It used to be that engineering managers and tech leads were two separate roles with separate skill sets. It’s become clear that the best leaders have experience in both. The online program at Stevens nurtures both disciplines to help you become a hands-on leader that solves problems through innovation and leadership.

When reading the article, if you found yourself excited about a career in management, our program is looking for passionate leaders just like you. A master’s program could be the catalyst to transforming your professional trajectory as an engineering manager.

Just like every journey of a thousand miles begins with a first step, what’s next for your career is up to you. And a master’s just may be the first step needed to make it a reality.