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Engineers as managers

Engineers as managers

Engineers as managers

In the company I work for the position as an engineer is a dead end.  To get ahead, engineers must move into management.  A little over a year ago I accepted a position as a manager of a new, small office.  I took the position because of the location and three promises.  I would have a person to do marketing, my old boss would be in the new office two days per week to help me, and I could spend one half my time working on projects.  The marketing person was never hired.  I was told we needed more work before we could hire anyone for marketing. I didn't really believe the second promise but thought I might get some help.  I got none.  Given the need to do marketing (I hate it) the lack of help I have not spent one half my time on projects.  This lowered my performance appraisal because I was supposed to be 50% utilized.  I requested a demotion but was told that I was intelligent and would learn to be a good manager and was promised management training (none so far).

My questions are:

    Does an engineer ever learn to like management?

    Are there companies that value engineers for their technical skills and not just because they might be a good manager some day?

RE: Engineers as managers

You like it because you like it, not because you learn anything.

Some good engineers make great managers, others suck at it.  Some bad engineers make great managers, others suck at it.  There's no correlation and no connection.

If you've actually managed and see no reward, either in fun of any other measure of satisfaction, then it's not for you.

I decided, based on experiences on my first job as a technical lead, that there was little, for me, to enjoy as a manager, so I don't.  That was 23 years ago and so far so good.  

And yes, the pay may not be as good as what you might get as a program manager or top-level manager, but if it's that important to you to make that kind of money, you shouldn't have been an engineer and you'll need to "learn to be a good manager."


RE: Engineers as managers

yay. Same here. I didn't enjoy the managerial part of my two year stint as a section leader, and am now happily employed as a technical dude, and get good appraisals.

This is a shame in some ways, my early career was based on the assumption that one day I would be a supervisor and then a manager and then a program manager and then (maybe) a chief engineer.

18 years later I've not even got to step 1! There again, for the last 10 years I have almost always enjoyed working.


Greg Locock

RE: Engineers as managers

IRStuff has put it nicely.

I think you need to look at this as a top management problem: they gave you three promises they haven't kept; they are now begining to give you stick for non-performance.
I think this is another "writing on the wall" situation and, even as a contingency, you need to start looking around for a new job with a new company before the management induced failures in this job tarnish your reputation.

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RE: Engineers as managers

As a manager you were not given a budget from which to hire or acquire resources needed to perform the work?  Hmm never encountered that before .  Being given additional responsibilites without resources is always a pain in the ...  Any way you can "time share" some people (marketing etc) with another office?

IRStuff put it well when he indicated "Some good engineers make great managers, others suck at it.  Some bad engineers make great managers, others suck at it.  There's no correlation and no connection."

Without resources (other than yourself), you have not even found out if you enjoy a management role.  It is also disappointing that your managers have not supported you or even let you return to your former role.  Since managers "love" meetings, you might have to schedule one and work through the issues.  Don't wait until you get nailed (again) on a performance appraisal.


RE: Engineers as managers

I have been a design engineer for 30 years. Way back then, I had a short fling as a project engineer, which at that time was a first step into management. There was no authority to do anything as all decisions were made higher up, but you were responsible for things you had no control over. Plus, when the company could not meet commitments, the project engineer was the one to be blamed and let go.

Since then I have been doing strictly technical work. The meetings and politics are minimized and I don't get fixated on budgets, contracts, and schedules. I don't make as much money, but the work is more intersting and I think I am happy most of the time.

I will grant that many young engineers quickly get bored with the technical work and would rather see themselves as managing projects. I all depends on the individual.

John Woodward

RE: Engineers as managers

The question was: Does an engineer ever learn to like management? With the salaries they pay engineers, no.


RE: Engineers as managers

"I was told we needed more work before we could hire anyone for marketing."

I'm not a manager, nor do I play one on TV, but...

Isn't it the marketing dude's job to get more work?  Where does your top management think this work is going to come from if no one is out beating the bushes for it.

You were given a management position, but no management training.  Then you were forced to be a marketing guy, I assume also without the benefit of any marketing training.

Then the ding you on your review?  Time to update the resume.

But, make the best of a bad situation.  Good marketing guys are good networkers.  While you are traveling doing marketing stuff, you have a perfect opportunity to research what else is happening in your field, and meet all sorts of interesting people.

RE: Engineers as managers

Anyone can learn to like management enough to take on the additional work required. The question is what do you want to do. Engineering is a dead end, because all you do the same thing every day. To not have a dead end job you must be willing to take risks, and do different jobs.
One way to look at you new job is a chance to learn new skills, meet new people, and not be stuck doing the same thing every day. Today is Sunday and I’m completing the documentation on a product design to be released for quoting, and manufacturing. This is boring  work, I would rather be playing salesman than doing this grunt work.
Some of the best managers and sales people are engineers. These people know what the people who work under them do, because they were there once, and they know the products and can understand how to change them if the customer needs something special. Nothing is worse than a dumb sales person.

RE: Engineers as managers

I think that there has been a lot of black and white positions taken.  I have not really had to manage as my profession, but I know if you hire good people, you will not really have to manage.  

I think that most people screw themselves when given the title manager.  If you ask someone what is a manager, you will have people with ego and power issues who will answer one way and people with those same issues who answer another way.  

I think that a good manager is someone who knows who they are and is fiar and consistent.  The big key is to be genuine and be yourself.  If you use this your people will see you as someone they can respect and your job will be less difficult.  Heck, you might actually enjoy it.

RE: Engineers as managers

Sorry you feel that way about engineering, but I've been doing engineering for 27 yrs and never regretted it nor am I doing the same thing I started  or even what I specifically thought I was going to be doing when I graduated.  

You can take chances in engineering just as easily.  There are always new opportunities and new things to learn in engineering.  All it takes is positive attitude: " I can do that," and a willingness to escape your comfort zone.

If anything, management is the dead end.  There's really not much newer in management than Machiavelli, Benjamin Spock and Sun Tzu, while new technologies and applications pop up on a daily basis in engineering.  

What's truly sad about your perspective is that this is the most radically changing period in history.  We've gone from single transistor per IC DTL and RTL to hundreds of millions of transistors per IC.  Only in these last two decades have we changed face-to-face communications from 2 feet away to anywhere on the planet or near-Earth orbit.


RE: Engineers as managers

IRstuff is absolutely right.
Management is probably not happy to be described as Machiavellian, but that is a pretty accurate description based on their application of "cold hard business" sense. I would be hard put to point to any management "innovation" in the intervening centuries.

The same is true of business accounting. Double entry bookeeping is based on principals laid down in the twelfth and widely used in the Venetian area by the fifteenth century (the first known book by Pacioli 1494)and has been modified by not substantially changed.

Take a look at any management practices and tools and you will find their historical counterparts and origins, but no significant changes, i don't think.

Good Management is good application, good engineering is innovation and problem solving.

Incidentaly, there is an old Chinese (i am told) curse: "May you live in interesting times."
We are certainly doing that, if these threads are anything to go by.

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"Si tacuisses philosophus mansisses"
"If you had kept quiet, you would have remained a philosopher"

RE: Engineers as managers

Like IRstuff says, there is always something new to learn in engineering. The field is so huge and changing so fast that you would need more than a lifetime to learn all there is to know.

The company may not care and it may not bring more money, but there is a lot of personal satisfaction in learning new things. If you do it for yourself, then you can learn what you would like to learn and it doesn't even have to be related to the job.

John Woodward

RE: Engineers as managers

It's kind of funny that more responses weren't from managers that liked their jobs.
Yes, you actually can learn to like managment.  
And yes, there are companies that value their engineers for thier engineering skills.  But you've got to remember that as an engineer, (if you're a good one),you are going to be looked at for other positions. And, as a manager, you always need to be thinking about succesion planning. Somebody that's smart and can think on thier feet is always going to be tagged to move up.
I wonder if you've lost your sense of accomplishment that you had when you were a pure engineer.  Gone are the days when you can actually see results of your work every day.
You need to work on quantifying your results for yourself and your leaders.  If they don't respond to numbers that prove you need more help then there is a real problem.  Think of yourself in the role of engineer again, would you respond if someone couldn't quantify their needs or results?  Your goals should be the same.  Quantify.
By the way, I was an engineer for 7 years and was asked to fill in when my manager (Operations) had a medical emergancy and would be off for 8-12 weeks.  I recieved 45 minutes of training.  Near the end of his medical leave, my manager was asked to take a lateral transfer and I was told I had the job permanently if I wanted it.  I said yes.  the only reason I took it was because I didn't want to work for someone that didn't know what was going on.  I still get to dabble in the research and development of product, but not as much as I used to.  That's about the only thing I dislike.  There's not much sense of accomplishment unless you learn to quantify your results and your groups results against a goal.
Good luck.

RE: Engineers as managers

how about this,

Would it be possible for an engineer who is very good at his current position that management will never replace him with anyone else, he'll never move up this way.


RE: Engineers as managers

A person who is introverted or a little short on people skills can still be a good engineer, but he would likely have a very tough time being a manager.

John Woodward

RE: Engineers as managers

I think you can learn to tolerate being a manager, but it's like eating escargot.  Some people love it and some people hate it.  Rarely do those that hate it learn to like it, but they might tolerate chewing one because it gets them brownie points elsewhere.

One key is knowing your limitations.  I know that I will NEVER like being a manager, because, at the end of the day, if you're a manager, you're not an engineer.  

Yes, you can "dabble," but if you're a good manager, you will no longer be a good engineer, because that's what your staff is paid to do, and you're paid to manage them.


RE: Engineers as managers

STLG; sadly, for some managers it is worse than this. They, and others, have a perpetual fear of smart people. The penalty of being clever is that you are seen as a threat.

I don't know why this should be, but it is. Ultmately it is why bad managers recruit too many poor performers. And yes, if there are some clever ones in their team, these are the guys that are never let near senior management or face to face with the powers that be. They get to submit reports to their boss who then presents it. Sometimes badly, often without crediting the engineer who wrote it.

It's just life.

eng-tips, Pro bono publico

Please see FAQ731-376 for tips on how to make the best use of Eng-Tips Fora.

"Si tacuisses philosophus mansisses"
"If you had kept quiet, you would have remained a philosopher"

RE: Engineers as managers

I have always been alittle envious of the managers, they seem to get by, and doing nothing. I have dodged all of the "opportunities" for management, as in the old days. The jokers get executed after their humor runs stale.

But actually, the creed, preserves their own. Fanugal's Principles of the Septic. The largest chunks float the highest.

RE: Engineers as managers

This is really a engineering forum and by the looks of it, almost nobody wants to be a manager.
Well, let me disagree. I am a engineer and a manager. Actually I manage a department with 23 persons and I really enjoy it. Am I still an engineer?
For shure. Everyday, I go to the field and walk around the factory identifying improvement points. Sometimes I even to the field with the tools and repair the things by myself.
This is just to show you my point of view that it really depends on each person personality and working environment to enjoy or not the management position.
Of course that I rather go to the field and manage a team in a project or repair than looking if I am over the budget or not, but even that is not so bad.
If I change company will I still enjoy management or do I rather go back to pure engineering?
I don't know, when I try it I will tell you.
The bottom line is don't give up the management just because you are having a bad experience. And if the top bosses really rely on you, you have the power to demand from them the conditions to fulfil their demands.
Remember them that you cannot make an omolet without the eggs and that miracles were only done by Christ and that was already almost 2000 years ago.


RE: Engineers as managers

I've only actually be a manager for afew months.  In my company I was a team leader for 3 years and there came a time when the VP of engineering asked me if I would like the title "engineering manager".  The only thing that I am having a hard time with is hiring personel.  Does this every become easier?

RE: Engineers as managers

I used to work for, what I thought, a very good engineering manager. He is not only technically sound, but also able to manage the rest of us very well. I have also worked for a manager who I think is very poor as a manager, very little engineering but he's very popular among the management level. Personally, I think every engineer is capable of being a good engineer. The problem is whether they like being it or not. Heck, I hate being a manager, but I'm the manager in one way or the other inside my house.


RE: Engineers as managers

If you read the threads on "Engineering jobs going overseas" you would think you would have hundreds applying for every job you have on offer.
But if you read some of the comments you might discern that only some types of engineering jobs are going overseas.
Your problem would seem to suggest a shortage of appropriately skilled engineers.
What sort of jobs have you got going?

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