In our last MicroClass, we had a very informative discussion with Yannis Minadakis, Senior Engineering Manager at Google. He discussed the role of an Engineering Manager and how one can switch into and stay in management positions across companies. This topic struck a chord with our attendees; how the interview process of an Engineering Manager is structured and evaluated, whether you still have to code or if system design will show up, and more.
Let’s delve deeper into what was covered during the session.
Key takeaways from the MicroClass
- The general layout of an engineering manager interview is:
- Coding questions: Though engineering managers don't focus solely on writing code, it will be easier for them to solve and discuss problems with people if they still know how to write code. Also, to be an effective manager, you should understand what you're managing. This is especially crucial for hiring decisions.
- System Design questions: When companies ask system design questions, they want to evaluate your experience and skills in designing large scale distributed systems. These questions may focus on actual backend system layouts or product system designs.
- Behavioral or leadership management questions: Engineering Manager is a role that demands a strong technical and leadership background. By asking behavioral interview questions, recruiters evaluate your leadership experience, skills, and potential. These set of questions are the biggest contributor to the decision making process in an interview.
- An important thing to keep in mind is that coding and system design questions are asked in Engineering Management interviews as baseline expectations. However, the expectation is not that of an equivalently leveled IC. Hence, if you’re interviewing for an L6 Engineering Manager, the level of coding and system design that is expected is lower than an L6 Individual Contributor.
- If you do not have formal management experience, it’s highly unlikely that you will be able to crack an Engineering Management role. However, applying to a job on a ladder (or career track) with the potential for management is the best path to becoming an Engineering Manager.
For example, one path to management is to find a role as an L6 Individual Contributor in a company such as Facebook and Google. As you move up the ladder, there will be opportunities for you to technically lead a small team. And if the team is growing, there is potential for you to start managing.
- There’s no magical number to how many years you need to become an Engineering Manager, but there is an expectation of at least a couple of years to make yourself suitable to manage and contribute rather than create risks. For instance, it’s hard to claim a credential when you have been a manager for just a couple of months.
Common myths busted
- There is no separate bank of technical questions for an Engineering Manager vs. an Individual Contributor. The only difference is that for Engineering Management roles, hiring managers emphasize less on the results of the coding interview and focus more on the behavioral and leadership aspects. Having said that, it does not mean that being an Engineering Manager is easier than being an Individual Contributor. Both have different roles and responsibilities, and hence the expectations of what they deliver during an interview is different.
- Engineering Managers are not necessarily paid more than ICs. The biggest difference is simply a mismatch of supply and demand. If there is a median comp delta, it is usually because they are harder roles to fill, which gives more negotiating power to the person filling them. It’s not because structurally, they are designed to have higher compensation.
Top questions asked at the MicroClass:
Q: How do I transition from an IC to an Engineering Manager?
Ans: The first thing to do is to make sure you want to become a manager. Next, make sure you know what the role entails, what hiring managers look for in an ideal candidate, and what an Engineering Manager’s day-to-day activities look like. The best way to do that is to talk to people or managers. Then, your best bet would be to identify opportunities organically and grow within the organization. When you’re having career conversations with your manager, you should express your interest in management and discuss why you want to transition into the role. If you have a good reason and understanding of the role, your manager will be inclined to help you. Also, it is vital to build a good rapport with people who you want to manage.
Q: Is it acceptable to lead teams of domains you’re new to?
Ans: It depends on the company you’re interviewing with. If you're interviewing at Google or Facebook, there are high chances that you will lead a team that you do not have deep domain knowledge on. For organizations that tie you to a particular management position, they are more likely to value domain knowledge.
Q: How much does pedigree matter when you want to get into a FAANG? By pedigree, I mean if you have a company like Apple or Microsoft on your resume.
Ans: Pedigree helps the recruiter pick you on LinkedIn. However, if you look at these top companies, they recruit thousands of people. There's no way that they could recruit candidates only from other top companies. There might be a bit of a disadvantage in terms of not having the pedigree, but it’s not significantly high. You can make your way into a FAANG by connecting with recruiters on LinkedIn, getting referrals, and get on the ladder you want to be on for which you have experience and make a credible case.