Engineering managers are being tasked with navigating a totally different industry landscape, but VP of engineering at the New York Times, David Yee, says, “Your job actually does not change.”
Many engineering managers will be feeling like their job is changing beyond all recognition right now. As their teams get smaller after rounds of layoffs, budgets get tighter, and new technologies emerge at an unprecedented pace, it’s understandable to feel overwhelmed by the task of leading high-performing software engineering teams.
During his LeadDev London keynote talk back in the summer, VP of engineering at The New York Times, David Yee, talked about how the job of leadership doesn’t change by looking back on tech’s past to see if it might inform its future.
“This isn’t a side gig”
In the 15 years since Google introduced Project Oxygen, the discipline of engineering management has markedly changed. “An organization of sufficient dynamism, complexity, and pace requires signaling and line of sight, which isn’t a side gig,” Yee said. And so the role has enjoyed relatively stable growth over the past decade.
During that time, the tech industry has seen its fair share of ups and downs, with Yee drawing parallels between the ramifications of the 2008 financial crisis and the end of hypergrowth we are living through now.
“Your job actually does not change”
“Companies once flush with lockdown revenue watched as it vanished. CEOs apologized en masse for hiring too optimistically, in some cases having done so over the course of several years,” he said. Waves of layoffs followed, more than 238,000 in 2023, compared to 65,000 in 2008, according to data by outplacement and career transitioning firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
This new, harsher environment leaves managers feeling the strain to maintain, or even increase velocity, with a reduced headcount and smaller budgets.
Despite this new landscape – one which many engineering managers will be grappling with for the first time in their career – “your job actually does not change,” Yee said. “We are engineering managers because we understand – or should understand – what engineers need in order to be effective and engaged and satisfied with their work.”
Question your processes
Just like 2009 was followed by a period of significant growth for the technology market, there’s a good chance the industry will rise again, perhaps on a wave of AI innovation, or something we can’t yet foresee, and engineering managers will be at the center of it.
“We [managers] are adapting quickly to the shift,” Yee said. “Question whether the processes we value have actually made a difference in our work, at our companies, for our people. And what better time to look closely at them than when they begin to break down?
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