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What are the everyday tasks of an engineering manager? Does this career normally require travel? What education does this job require? How could I advance in this career?

Hi, I'm Becca
I really want to become a engineering manager and I would like to know a few things about it before I commit. I want to love my job so it doesn't seem like work so I would like to know if this job is the one for me. I like to build, I've been told I'm a leader, I like to better myself, and I'm a hard worker. If someone could talk to me a little bit about it that would be greatly appreciated. engineering mechanical-engineering manager

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Christopher’s Answer

This is a great question! The answers of course will vary depending on the size and type of employer, how much responsibility you hold, and the size of your team. My perspective comes from over 20 years experience at medium sized businesses in the process equipment industries. I transitioned into management after about 10 years of working in various engineering roles.

As an engineering manager, you will likely get to wear both hats, engineer and manager. As an engineering professional, part of your daily work will be spent overseeing the work of your team. Depending upon your company's workflow processes, you may assign work and also an approver of completed engineering work, which will require you to retain and use your professional skills. Engineering approval responsibilities can range from daily tasks to being a subject matter expert in larger projects such as R&D or new product development.

In the manager part of your job, some part of your week will also be involved in administrative and oversight responsibilities such as travel and expense approvals, capital project requisitions, HR tasks and meeting with your employees. It is important to discuss performance and development regularly and culture your employees for their next career steps. Staffing actions also fall into this category, and can include defining job requirements, recruiting and sometimes also downsizing.

Another important part of management is to assess your team's performance against company goals. Sometimes this may require you to analyze and prepare performance metrics, monthly reports, and update communications for upper management. As you gain experience and move into higher areas of responsibility, you may have the opportunity to transition from tactical to a more strategic role such as an engineering director of VP.

Lastly, with regard to travel, my own experience is about 50% of my travel is still related to engineering work such as customer meetings, manufacturing plant visits, and engineering conferences; and 50% related to management including site visits to each of my teams (5 locations globally in my case) as well as company strategy meetings and development activities. There can be other opportunities for travel related to acquisitions and partnerships as well, if your company pursues these.

Engineering management can be a very rewarding career. I like the variety of problems (technical and otherwise) that come up from managing a team of 20+ engineers globally and being part of a larger community of 50 engineers in my business. Good luck to you in your career aspirations!

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Ron’s Answer

Hi Becca,

I'm a software engineering manager. I've been leading teams for several years. One of the most important aspects of being a team leader is open, honest, and frequent communication. It's very important to ensure team members feel a sense of equity and inclusion. See the optional next steps for some reading ideas from Google's Project Aristotle and Project Oxygen.

Some of my everyday tasks include:
* Running a daily standup where team members tell what they intend to do that day and anything that is currently preventing them from doing their tasks.
* Finding ways to unblock work. This can be running communication with other teams, finding resources outside my team, or pitching in with technical solutions.
* Communicating what my team is doing to upper management.
* Communicating to my team what upper management wants.

Some of the less frequent tasks are:
* Recruiting, hiring, firing
* Employee reviews and writing promotion pitches

The travel requirements will vary greatly. When I was doing eCommerce consulting I traveled about 20% which is low for that particular job. Currently I don't travel.

I have a B.S. Computer Science with a minor in Business. I used my education to get a foot in the door. I'd say my business minor has more practical application at this point. Having a bachelor's degree will certainly help as you get started in your field.

Some of the things you can consider for advancement are:
* Ask for it. This is really frequently overlooked by people. You have to let your managers know what you are aiming for.
* Do the job you are getting paid for and look for opportunities in the job you would like.
* If you want to advance past middle management having an MBA might really be helpful.
* Constantly learn. I provided some reading suggestions in the optional next steps.

Ron recommends the following next steps:

Read 'Turn This Ship Around' by L. David Marquet. This is a great explanation of the leader-leader style of management.
Internships! Getting an internship while still in school is on the job experience and will give you leg up over other candidates.
Constantly learn from your teachers and managers. You will see what works well and what doesn't. Keep a list and practice applying these stuff that works when you are in a leadership position.
Read about Google's Project Oxygen
Read about Google's Project Aristotle
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Shiraz’s Answer

Hi Becca,
Excellent questions. I am a Software Engineering Manager, I have been managing teams and project for more than 10 years and I will do my best to address your questions one by one based on my experience:

What are the everyday tasks of an engineering manager?
The tasks can be broken down in terms of people management, technical management, and project management. As a people manager one has to foster and grow the careers of team members, and ensure that the team is aligned on goals and priorities. You will have to hold feedback sessions as well as be a good listener. You will have to deal with conflicts that arise within and between teams. You will have to manage hiring and firing of team members.
As a technical manager you will have to translate business level requirements to technical requirements with your team. Understand what your product or function is meant to do but not necessarily understand how things will work. You will have to help break down the work in to small components and make sure everyone has meaningful work to do.
As part of project management you will need to understand and define scope of the work, identify start and stop points, make sure deliverables are clearly understood, and manage status as well as risk with your stakeholders.
This is not a comprehensive list but it should give you an idea.

Does this career normally require travel?
The amount of travel required will depend on the type of role and the location. You may have to travel if you are not at your company's headquarters. Or you may have to travel occasionally to represent your teams at conferences.

What education does this job require?
I don't think that there is any specific education that is required for you to be a manager but you could consider a management or leadership certificate or degree if you would like. I think an MBA can be very helpful. I think that is a great resource as are many books on management and leadership.

How could I advance in this career?
I think as is the case in many careers the key to growth is management is successful execution and delivering on your commitments. It would be best to understand your goals and expectations management has of you, and then building an alliance within your team to motivate everyone to achieve these goals. It would be best to articulate results in terms of measurable to show how you are helping your organization meet its goals.
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Glenn S.’s Answer

This is a great question and difficult to answer. I am a Mechanical Engineering Manager in R&D consumer electronics and I have also done this in a medical device company. So as a minimum for education, I would say a BS in engineering. Ideally, MBA or Management in technology.

From a travel perspective, it depends on the area and the company. I have traveled for position as engineering manager. I have had resources that were not co-located with me and I had to work through issues with the suppliers and audit potential new suppliers.

From a daily task standpoint, my experience is based on product development. There generally are more meetings in management than as an individual contributor. There is a certain amount of time in making sure my direct reports are delivering to their expectations, and time in developing my direct reports. I also work with a wide group of people from other areas of the company to support the projects and my employees. It is important to build relationships with peers, other managers, and individual contributors. One of the least fun parts of the job is the employee evaluations, typically this is once a year. I also visit suppliers, do audits, work with issues when the supplier does not meet expectations.

Every day is different and there is single answer for what I do daily.

I hope this helps.

Glenn S. recommends the following next steps:

BS in Engineering in the area that you want to develop skills and eventually manage
Work as an individual contributor with in your degree and the area that you wish to manage
MBA or Master in Management of Technology
Pay attention when you are working to what works well and what does not work well for managers
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Jennifer’s Answer

Hi Becca

I am not an engineering manager but I have some thoughts to share with you about this topic when it comes to what education you would need.

I would find a school with a strong business school and a strong engineering school. Major in your engineering branch of choice (looks like you are interested in Mechanical Engineering). I think you should then consider a minor in an area of business (for example: I have a BS in Industrial Engineering and a Minor in Supply Chain). This would give you a step up on other mechanical engineers applying to the same position as you. In addition, I would also consider getting an MBA as this would set you apart from other candidates even more!

As far as what your day to day will look like - that will depend on the company you work for and the specific role you are given. Work on defining what being an engineering manager means to you. If you know what you are wanting from a position it will help you narrow down your search and also help you in your interviews. Best of luck!