The Engineer to Manager Transition, by Former Twitter Director of Engineering David Loftesness
How to Survive your First 90 Days
David Loftesness / @dloft
Goals of this talk
• Provide context on the technical management role.
• Help you decide whether to pursue it.
• Help you succeed if you do.
• Working in tech for 24 years at 6 companies.
• 2 hyper-growth IPOs: Twitter, Geoworks
• 2 failed startups talent acquisitions: Blue Mug -> Amazon,
Xmarks -> SurveyMonkey
• Helped ~15 engineers transition to management roles
• Currently on 12 month sabbatical
• Contact me! email@example.com / @dloft
• Startups tend to avoid management.
• At first, founders make all the management decisions.
• If the company is successful, hiring takes off.
• Before long, management is urgently needed.
• Manager to engineer: “Hey, I’m drowning. Can you
manage this team for me?”
Let’s make some managers!
Most tech companies have a bias towards in-house
• Good! Current individual contributors (ICs) have lots of
context on the product, tech, workflow, etc.
• Bad! Most current ICs have no idea how to manage. The
founders probably won’t be effective coaches. And you’
re already in “management debt”.
Totally unscientific poll
• How many of you are managers or former managers?
• How many of you received training on management
before becoming a manager?
• Informal survey of engineering managers from various
• “Before becoming a manager, did you participate in any
formal management training?”
• No: 14
• Yes: 1
“Just in Time” management?
• Staffing a very important role with mostly untrained
beginners…Crazy! Why do we do this again?
• Management skills tend to be undervalued relative to
technical skills, experience at the company, etc
• “Managing is just making schedules, meetings, and
performance reviews, right? Doesn’t seem so hard…”
• Not going to change this (yet). In the meantime…
Day 0: The Decision
• Your manager asks you “The Question”…
• Do you know… are you right for the job? Is the job right
• What happens if I say Yes?
This is an entirely new job
• You won’t be able to just “bolt on” some management
• You now have people whose happiness at work rests
largely on your shoulders.
• You are now responsible for the results but can’t do all
the work yourself.
Say goodbye to coding
• For now, at least. Coding, architecture, technical
decision-making: these are not your primary job
• It’s okay to have a transition period, but the longer you
hold on, the longer it will take to become a competent
• You need to show your team you trust their judgement,
and before you know it you will NEED to.
Say hello to your team
• Instead of your coding & design work, you will be:
• understanding the people on your team and helping
them do their best work
• setting clear expectations for each individual
• communicating with the team, peers, managers
• trusting others with important technical decisions
Day 0: The Decision
• Are you ready to say Yes?
• Great! What next?
Surviving 90 days in 30-day
• Days 1-30: own your education
• Days 30-60: find a rhythm
• Days 60-90: assess yourself
Days 1-30: own your education
• Make “learning about management” part of your daily
• Actively learn about your team.
• Find a mentor (or 2 or 3)
Days 30-60: find a rhythm• Most common new-manager traps
1. the endless cycle of email and meetings.
2. avoiding management work by coding
• Build yourself an “Event Loop”.
• Daily / Weekly / Monthly checklists
• Important: block off time on your calendar to review
EM Event Loop examples
Daily Weekly Monthly
Recruiting pipeline: how can I close
this great candidate?
Who needs feedback from last week?
Does everyone on the team know what
is expected of them?
Projects Are my critical projects on track?
Do I need to update anyone on project
Any projects on the back burner that
we should start?
What needs to be said at standup
Do I need to do any backlog
Are we managing projects the right
Am I ready for today’s meetings? Can
any be cancelled?
What are my goals for this week? How
did I do against goals for last week?
What do I need to be more successful
in my job?
Days 60-90: assess yourself
• Here’s a quick test: in 1 minute per person, can you
name what is unique about each team member and your
plan to capitalizing on it? (h/t: Marcus Buckingham, "The
One Thing You Need To Know”)
• Can you start to see what changes need to be made? Or
are you just treading water? (h/t: Glen Sanford, “On Code
• Is the team actually delivering results? In the end, this is
what matters most!
Day 90: should I fire myself?
• This is your day for a go/no-go decision.
• If “no-go”, don’t think of it as “stepping down”, but rather
focusing on your strengths, your passions.
• If “go”, congrats, you still have a ton to learn about
• Here are some suggestions…
Going from "surviving" to
• Focus on enhancing strengths, not fixing weaknesses.
• Find your truth-teller, your "court jester”.
• Build a lasting learning environment with your peers:
reading group, lunch discussions, etc.
• DeMarco and Lister - “Peopleware”, “Slack”
• Buckingham and Coffman - “First, Break All The Rules”
• Rands In Repose - http://randsinrepose.com/blog/
• Joe Xavier - https://www.quora.com/What-are-the-
firstname.lastname@example.org / @dloft