Delegating former technical responsibilities to scale yourself as a first-level manager

As his team grows, this Antoine (Sr Director of Engineering at Box) realizes his technical responsibilities are impairing his ability to scale himself as a manager. He hires a technical lead and delegates the technical vision to them.

Problem

A few years ago, at Box, I moved from the position of technical lead to that of a manager. As a new manager, I was in charge of people, as well as the tech vision. I was still coding and doing Pull Reviews and Architecture quite a lot.

However, I began to see some symptoms that I couldn’t be as efficient when coding, as I could be as a manager:

  • I started to slow down my team. For example, an engineer sent a Pull Review and had to wait because I was in a management meeting.
  • I started to make tradeoffs, asking myself “Should I go to that architecture and design meeting or this mentoring discussion with an engineer”?
  • I realized that I could not add any more people to my team, because my management bandwidth was very thin.

Moreover, I started to realize that this problem was slowing down my growth as a manager.

Actions taken

I decided to delegate technical leadership to someone else. As I didn’t have someone internally who had enough experience, I decided to hire someone externally.

I decided to hire a staff engineer with 10–15 years of experience who would be my partner, lead all the technical parts of Box’s tech vision, and who would technically mentor my engineers. I was very careful in choosing this person, and I sourced and hired him myself, without going through the regular hiring process. I was looking for somebody more experienced than me and better than me technically. This type of profile doesn’t usually reply to recruiting emails. Because of this, it took four months to hire the right person.

Lessons learnt

This decision was a very good decision because I could focus on leadership and could develop as a manager, which was my main motivation.

In order to grow as a manager, you sometimes need to abandon one of your hats. As an Engineering Manager, you have to abandon your technical leadership as soon as you see that you have to make tradeoffs between your role as a manager and as a technical lead, or as soon as you see that you become a bottleneck for your engineers.


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