Maker to Manager — How We Support New Leaders
At Skyscanner, we take the career aspirations of our teams seriously, which is why we have spent a ton of time building our two distinct engineering paths; individual contributor (IC) or manager. Advancing your career as an IC is seen as a linear progression; going from Senior Software Engineer to the next level of Principal Engineer, for example, is a promotion within Skyscanner. It’s a brand new role as you take on more ambiguous technical problems and have a wider impact within the business. In fact, if you want to know more about that IC path you can read this blog from the awesome Nicky Wrightson (https://medium.com/@SkyscannerEng/finding-the-steps-on-the-individual-contributor-ladder-8ec60e11fb46).
The management track is slightly different. When anyone becomes a people manager at Skyscanner, we recognise this as a new role, with new responsibilities. As a result, we treat this slightly different than a traditional promotion. We introduce our engineers to their new manager role in the same way we would onboard a brand new hire into the business — with an induction. Therefore we have created a manager onboarding programme specifically designed to help support our engineers who want to “try out” a people management role and grow at their own pace.
We call it the Engineering Manager Path!
Converting Intrigue to Interest
As an engineer progresses through our IC framework, the fork in the road from maker to manager usually begins with a conversation with their own line manager. In fact, it’s common that most ICs, at some point become intrigued by manager roles;
- What do they do all day? 🤔
- Is it just meetings? 😴
- Do you still code? 💻
Through the typical career of an engineer, they are likely to have had a few different managers during their time as an IC and at Skyscanner, we strive to be as open and transparent as possible about what this role entails so that our engineering community can understand their career options.
Let’s take Samantha for example; she is a Senior Software Engineer in a back end focused squad (Samantha is fictional; just to be clear
). She is interested in what it would take to become a manager and she discusses this with her line manager at their weekly 1–1 meeting. Her line manager thinks this is an awesome direction for Samantha to go and points her towards the Skyscanner “Manager Explore” documentation, which contains a wide range of introductory online courses, including;
- Transitioning to Management
- How to have great 121s
- Tips on Delegation
- Giving and Receiving feedback
There is also a fantastic opportunity here to take on more of the delivery side of the squad, for example running Agile ceremonies and retrospectives. In fact, at Skyscanner, we recommend that even those engineers who don’t have an immediate interest in management take the time to learn what it takes to plan, run and execute in an agile squad. This means that our engineers are able to learn about Scrum, lean, facilitation and many more topics which will help not just them but also their teams’ ability to deliver software. Samantha, again with her line manager, works through her personal development plan and builds a timeline of when another engineer from her squad could report to her at the start of the next quarter. During these career conversations, Samantha and her manager also talk about her options if for any reason it turns out this isn’t the right path for her, because at Skyscanner this isn’t a one-way door decision. A manager who wants to become an IC again is also considered a positive outcome for the programme.
The day comes when Samantha is assigned her very first direct report in our Skyscanner HR system. 24 hours later, Samantha receives a friendly Slack message introducing her to the Engineering Manager Path!
So what exactly is the Engineering Manager Path?
The original programme was born from our own teams looking for a more structured learning path for engineers who wanted to try out management for themselves and was built organically from inside Skyscanner. The Engineering Manager Path (EMP) has been running now for just over 2 years and we have inspected and adapted it over that time frame. Right now we have a 6-month programme designed to help engineers become better managers and eventually assist them in making the transition to an Engineering Manager role when they are ready. The programme is set out to give our engineers a combination of what we at Skyscanner like to call the three Es; Education, Experience and Exposure.
For Education; they will enrol in several internal training courses which are designed to introduce many complementary management concepts which will help them in their early days as a manager.
For Experience; they will take on line-management responsibility and be responsible for developing and growing their people.
For Exposure; they will be matched with a Skyscanner mentor to help them work on day-to-day problems as well as look at how they are progressing as a manager. Their mentor is not aligned to their working squad and is an impartial set of eyes on any challenges.
In addition to that, all new managers are invited to our Manager Path Slack channel, where they can discuss anything that is top of mind, ask questions of other new managers and also take part in daily challenges. During those 6 months, the experience of everyone on the programme will be different as some will face challenges in their area of the business which others won’t have come across yet. That is why we also book regular lean coffee meetings for managers to pop onto and share their experience with a particular set of challenges they are having within their teams or even ask other managers how they would solve a particular issue. These lean coffee meetings also have more senior managers in attendance to make sure nobody is being persuaded down the wrong path and this is also attended by our Learning and Leadership team who can point our new managers in the direction of courses, blogs or books which may help them solve their people puzzles.
What Happens After 6 months?
After the first initial stretch of time as a manager, we make sure that all of our new managers have been supported by the following;
- Our People Manager Induction — online learning path on Skyscanner introducing them to the core of management at Skyscanner
- Training Programme — live training on being the best manager you can at Skyscanner
- A Mentor for 1–1 support in the world of management
- MyPerformance Training — Our feedback cycles at Skyscanner are extremely important to us, so we make sure our new managers are invited to training as early as possible
- Site Engineering Manager meetings — each of our office locations has a monthly manager meeting (currently virtual during the pandemic); another great source of information and exposure
- Invite to the Engineering Manager Path Slack channel
- Quarterly ‘Ask Me Anything’ Sessions (AMAs) — with Engineering Leaders and experienced managers focused on managing at Skyscanner
So after the first initial 6 months, another discussion happens.
Is this something you want to pursue?
Whatever the answer is here is a success for Skyscanner. If we take the example with Samantha again, she either continues on her management journey to become a fully-fledged Engineering Manager in Skyscanner or she goes back to being a Senior Software Engineer with the knowledge that although management may not be for her, she now knows what it entails. Just like with any discipline, having empathy for those around us and what their roles and responsibilities entail can only help us in building high performing teams.
So, does this work? We think it does!
As a company, our engagement survey results for our management population have been on the rise over the past 18 months and our latest stats show that nearly 50% of all of our Squad Leads in Skyscanner have been through the Engineering Manager Path.
Starting as a line manager in any company can be an extremely daunting and scary experience. At Skyscanner, we are passionate about making sure that our new managers get the help, support and guidance that they need to set themselves up for success in their brand new role. This won’t automatically make them great managers, but it most certainly sets them on the right path to become one!
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About the author
Ben Stewart is a Director of Engineering in our eCommerce tribe and is based in Glasgow. Within eCommerce, he currently works across areas such as the payments platform, Identity and also understanding how to improve our marketplace with new products such as Insurance. He passionately promotes learning within our management community and is the owner of the Engineering Manager Path in Skyscanner.