The Seven Areas Of Software Management

Ian Nowland

In a former post I talked about that to grow as a software engineering manager you need to move your time and focus away from the tactical and to the strategic — spending them acting to get ahead of misses rather than reacting to them as they occur. However that raises: what does that mean in terms of tangible acts? In my experience it comes to two things:

  1. Raising your consciousness level up to longer term strategic concerns.
  2. Addressing those concerns by taking specific acts taking your time and focus.

But even that is amorphous. Thus to understand both the conscious concerns and action, I use a framework where I split software engineering management up into 7 areas:

In my experience, this is where all your time goes. (Although as you move to managing larger organizations you move away from a bias at the top, and towards a bias at the bottom.)

The next 7 posts will look at each area as follows:

  1. Introduction of what the area encompasses.
  2. A list of “nuts and bolts” questions you want to be on top of to tactically understand your position.
  3. A list of harder questions whose purpose is to raise your consciousness about everything you would ideally be on top of if you wanted to avoid misses.
  4. A list of potential actions you could take to improve your strategic position.

Most of the fourth are accompanied by goals. So a small caveat about goals. I am not particularly goal driven, in fact I have tweeted, “Be wary of those who always meet their goals; they have shown themselves willing to always trade off the unseen and valuable for the nominal but rewarded.” Still I think manager goals are often useful. Since time and focus is limited, they function as an upfront agreement between a manager and their manager on where they should be spent. If a strategic area costs 2–4 weeks of engagement across a year (2 hours a week), then it is a struggle to deliver 5, while also dealing with tactical work. Thus, I cover all 7 management areas with 1–2 goals, but being thoughtful whether a goal is tactical (sometimes no more than “continue the good work”), or whether it is expected to need the manager’s focussed engagement to succeed.

Ian Nowland

Written by

VP Eng Metrics and Alerts @ Datadog. Formerly SVP Compute Platform Eng @ Two Sigma, and creator of Nitro @ AWS EC2.

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