Becoming an Engineering Manager

Alexandre Ignjatovic
Dec 3, 2020 · 11 min read

In this article, you’ll learn how Mélanie, Julien and Yann, three Doctolibers, went from Software Engineers to Engineering Managers, and what kind of support they found during their journey.

At Doctolib, we are strongly committed to help people grow and achieve their full potential. That’s why we worked so hard to provide an environment where Doctolibers can find the right path for themselves and pursue their growth as effectively and efficiently as possible.

All three of these Doctolibers have a slightly different story. For Julien & Yann, they applied to an Engineering Manager position, but during the interview process were proposed a Software Engineer position and promised a quick transition to manager. As for Melanie, she joined us early in her career directly as an engineer, and after some internal exploration, eventually decided a manager role would align best with her goals and interests.

Disclaimer: At Doctolib, we don’t consider that Engineering Manager is the ultimate evolution of Software Engineer. We think that career path and career progression are two separate things, and that people should be able to grow in the direction that best fits them.

Why did you want to become an Engineering Manager?

Yann:

I began my career as an engineer, and as the scope of my role grew, I started mentoring my teammates, and really enjoyed sharing experience and my knowledge of best practices. Around seven years into my developer life, is when I realized that mentoring was one of my favorite parts about my job.

I wanted to do more than just share knowledge, but really be responsible for the growth of others, so I decided that an Engineering Manager seemed like the logical next step.

I spent the next six years — before joining Doctolib — as an Engineering Manager with different teams and in different capacities and never looked back. Sometimes I miss coding and having a direct impact a bit, but ultimately I find it more gratifying to shape a high performing team to improve on their delivery and to move them along in their careers, which is why I enjoy being a manager.

Julien:

Before joining Doctolib I was an engineer and tech lead at a few different companies. Much like Yann, as I gained experience, I naturally began mentoring.

In my most recent job — before Doctolib — my official title was Tech Lead. The position tech lead can describe a variety of roles depending on the company — at Doctolib we call it Tech Holder (more on this here and there), and it’s actually a rotating responsibility within each team for each project, rather than a permanent position. For me, at my previous company, it meant I was still writing code, but with the added responsibilities of mentoring the group of engineers, keeping track of the project delivery, aligning with other engineering teams, and dealing with a lot of aspects of the project management process.

I got my first taste of people management when I had the opportunity to directly manage some interns a few years ago. I shared my experience with them, coached them in their career, and supported them to achieve their goals. I really enjoyed this new kind of impact, where I could influence the success of others. I wanted to continue to grow in this direction, and so it seemed that my next play should be transitioning to an Engineering Manager role.

Why did you choose Doctolib, even though you were starting as an engineer?

Melanie:

My story is a bit different from Yann’s & Julien’s in that I joined Doctolib early in my career as a developer, so I wasn’t really considering my exact path at that point. When I joined, my main priority was to find a company where I could learn as much as possible and be exposed to opportunities.

From day one, I had the chance to work with engineers and managers who pushed me to think differently and provided me with tools and techniques to improve my skills as a developer. As I began to establish myself on the team, I realized that I had actually become a mentor for the new people that were joining, which got me thinking about what was next.

I began to reflect on what skills I developed, and in which areas I could continue learning. At Doctolib there are a few paths for growth. For me, the most appealing was either Principle Engineer, where I would grow my technical scope to a company wide impact and remain an individual contributor, or Engineering Manager, where I would transition my influence from an individual level to a team level.

One of the best parts about Doctolib is the opportunity to explore roles internally. It’s encouraged by leadership, and everyone on the team is very willing to share their experiences. In fact, we even have a program called “vis ma vie” (Live my life).

After exploring both roles, I thought about what makes me the most excited to come to work in the morning. I really enjoy building a strong culture and team spirit, aligning on a mission, and having the opportunity to ship a feature and iterate on it as a team. I welcomed the challenge to learn how to motivate and grow a team of people to meet a goal, just like my early managers encouraged me.

Julien:

I spent seven years in the Bay Area at various tech companies, and early last year I decided for a number of reasons that I wanted to come back to France. I focused my job search on tech companies with a strong mission, an ambitious leadership team, and an open Engineering Manager position. Doctolib’s mission to improve health through technology, their aggressive growth plans, and their open manager role naturally brought the company to the top of my list.

As I mentioned, I had a good deal of technical leadership, and a bit of people management experience from my interns, but I never fully led or built my own team. So after I applied to the role and had an initial conversation with the team, they suggested that I would first start as an individual contributor on a feature team, get familiar with the tech stack and the engineering processes, and after a few months we would reconsider my desire to become manager.

Admittedly, I was disappointed that I would not be directly considered for a manager role, but I decided to trust the team that this would be the best recipe for my success as a Doctoliber and as a manager. I’m happy to report that six months later I am indeed an Engineering Manager — and as promised, I am better equipped to lead my team now, than when I joined. Having ramped on the stack already, I feel technically confident and I can focus entirely on becoming a manager and supporting the team.

I think my story nearly perfectly illustrates Doctolib’s philosophy around management. When possible, we like to grow managers from within the company, and this is for two reasons: 1) As a manager you will be more knowledgeable of the specific technical challenges your team is facing, having directly worked on them yourself. 2) We want to provide the opportunity for every employee to grow their career in a way that matches their personal goals.

Yann:

The main driver in my job search was the company culture, rather than the job title. Unlike Julien, I actually was an Engineering Manager prior to applying to Doctolib. However, my management experience was primarily at e-commerce companies with a much different approach to Software Engineering than what we have at Doctolib.

I was particularly attracted to Doctolib because of the company’s investment in the tech teams who not only follow modern agile methodologies, but also implement knowledge sharing and team bonding rituals like all hands and team offsites. The opportunity to leave e-commerce and instead work on improving healthcare, only made Doctolib a more obvious choice.

Like Julien, during my recruiting process, the team suggested that the best situation would be for me to start my journey as an individual contributor for about six months. In my case, this made sense because after six years as a manager in a much different tech environment I was feeling somewhat removed and was actually excited to code again on a more modern tech stack that I would have to learn from the ground up (Rails/React).

Again, like Julien, during my sixth month at Doctolib, I transitioned into Engineering Management to lead a newly created feature team. In retrospect, I’m really happy that Doctolib made this recommendation for my career path. I think it would have been too much at once for me to ramp up on a new tech stack, get familiar with the company and learn its products, all while managing a team. A nice additional bonus is that having had a refresher on what the life of a developper is like, and having experienced what it is like at Doctolib specifically, really helps being more relevant as a manager.

How has the transition to manager been?

Yann:

I knew from experience that taking on a management role is an adventure. As an ex-developer, sometimes it’s hard to let go and remember that the measure of your success is no longer focused on your output, but rather your team’s performance and growth. It’s a fine balance between avoiding micromanagement, but also not becoming too detached from the day-to-day and the technical side of things, which leads to becoming quickly irrelevant.

Learning this balance takes time, but I can tell you from experience, that your company’s culture really impacts the likelihood you find the right balance in the shortest amount of time. At my previous company I was basically left alone during my transition from engineer to manager, so I had to make mistakes and learn from them myself.

At Doctolib, my experience was the opposite. Of course, I was in an even better position this time, given what I had learned in the past, but Doctolib has a management excellence culture and specific programs to ensure every manager is set up for success from the start.

We have a “crash course” on the company’s management tenets called M-boost, which includes documentation on management processes, a newsletter and slack channels, among other resources to stay connected to other managers too! And finally, what helps maybe the most, we have N+1s who actually coach you and help you grow as managers, something I’ve never really had before.

In short, the transition was really night and day compared to what I’ve known before, and I’m thankful to be part of a company who puts so much thought into the development of its employees!

Julien:

Doctolib couldn’t have made it easier for someone like me to transition from individual contributor to Engineering Manager for the first time.

One thing that really stands out for me through this whole process was the clear planning and open communication. Like I said, the conversation about my career path began during the recruiting process, but it did not end there. I had check-ins with my manager during my first months to make sure I was still on track, and I was officially re-evaluated at the six month mark to confirm I was ready for the new role, and that this was still in line with my career objectives.

Before I took over the new team, they presented me the “Manager Kit”, which is a document listing all the tools and resources you need as a manager at Doctolib, and they put me on the management training program that Yann mentioned, M-Boost.

To be honest, I was impressed there was an actual process and an established training for accompanying me all the way. As a new manager, I was given all the tips and resources I need to manage my team. I know when and where I should go to exchange with other managers, learn from others or ask for help. I feel part of a team of managers as opposed to feeling on my own and this is incredibly helpful and supportive as I learn my new role.

As a former individual contributor, I miss writing code from time to time, but now I get to live my passion through my reports’ while supporting them. It is challenging in a very different way, but also very gratifying, and I am grateful for Doctolib for giving me this opportunity.

Melanie:

The transition to manager has not necessarily been easy, but it has definitely been smooth, thanks to the clear path the company provides and the mentorship programs to support new managers. I also had two direct advocates, my manager, and my mentor, on top of the training programs that the team provides us, and of course the community of other new managers at the company.

I had the added bonus of staying on the same team, which meant that I already knew the scope technically and the way that the team worked. Because I was brand new to management, and honestly still relatively early in my career we started slowly. I began managing one person, through which I learned how to have meaningful 1:1s, set goals, evaluate performance, and help define a career path. Now I manage a full team, and I feel very prepared to not only coach my reports, but also handle unforeseen challenges that arise — and let me tell you, as a manager there will be a lot!

What I think is really great is how seriously Doctolib takes management. We believe that strong people managers are a core pillar to achieving company objectives. To ensure everyone at the company is set up for success, we never want to put anyone in a position they are not equipped to handle. I’m thankful that I had the chance to grow my own career in a way that ensured the best outcomes for me and my team.

My manager and mentor were always available to discuss any questions or concerns that I had about people management. I had many open conversations with them about their experience, what it means to be a manager, how they define goals, and how they measure success in their roles. More concretely, they were there to talk through specific people or team related issues that were new to me.

Of course there is always room for improvement, and as a company we are constantly pushing ourselves to do better. I’m looking forward to growing my career on the people management track for now, and being able to help improve the process for others in a similar position.

Thanks for reading!

This was a long but important article for us.

And if you‘d like to know more about what we do and how it feels to work at Doctolib as a software Engineer, you can check out “How we onboard developers at Doctolib?” or “Applying to Doctolib as a Full Stack Developer”, and if that pique your interest, be sure to check out our open positions.

And if you want more technical news, follow our journey through our docto-tech-life newsletter!

Doctolib

Improving Healthcare for Good

Doctolib

Founded in 2013, Doctolib is the fastest growing e-health service in Europe. We provide healthcare professionals with services to improve the efficiency of their organization, transform their patients’ experience, and strengthen cooperation with other practitioners. We help pati

Alexandre Ignjatovic

Written by

Engineering Manager @ Doctolib

Doctolib

Founded in 2013, Doctolib is the fastest growing e-health service in Europe. We provide healthcare professionals with services to improve the efficiency of their organization, transform their patients’ experience, and strengthen cooperation with other practitioners. We help pati

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