Transitioning from Software Engineer to Engineering Manager
Insights from Stefano Le Pera, Engineering Manager at The Times.
Transitioning from an individually contributing Software Engineer to an Engineering Manager can be an exciting but challenging career move. To gain valuable insights into this transition, we had the opportunity to interview Stefano Le Pera, an experienced Engineering Manager at The Times in London. With over 15 years of experience in the software engineering field, Stefano shares his journey, challenges faced, key skills required, surprises he encountered, and strategies for success as an engineering manager. This article aims to distil Stefano’s advice into a comprehensive guide for Software Engineers aspiring to become Engineering leaders of the future.
Stefano’s career journey began in Rome as a Flash Developer and, after a stint in Berlin he settled in London. When asked about his transition to engineering management, he explained, “I realised that my passion was shifting from tech and coding to people and processes” Stefano’s desire to use his skills and experience to help others motivated him to pursue a leadership role – a similar reason that I hear for many others looking to make the transition.
Key skills for Engineering Managers
Stefano highlights the importance of soft skills for Engineers transitioning into management. According to him, empathy, proactive communication, time management, building trust, conflict resolution, and creating a positive work environment are crucial. Stefano emphasises, “It’s not about you anymore; it’s about the team and the people you are managing”.
In Stefano’s view, trust is a fundamental element for successful teams. He emphasises the role of managers in building trust, stating, “Managers can build trust by being honest and transparent, by being fair and consistent, and by being supportive and encouraging”. Building trust fosters openness and effective collaboration within the team.
Stefano also acknowledges that conflicts are inevitable in the workplace. He advises managers to approach conflicts constructively: “This means listening to both sides of the story, helping the parties to understand each other’s perspectives, and finding a solution that everyone can agree on”. By resolving conflicts, managers maintain a healthy team dynamic and promote productivity.
Stefano believes in creating a work environment where team members feel valued, respected, and supported. He stresses the importance of clear expectations, regular feedback, and celebrating successes, explaining that these factors contribute to a positive and productive work environment.
Challenges and overcoming them
During his transition, Stefano faced challenges such as adjusting to measuring impact indirectly and managing multiple responsibilities.
Regarding measuring impact, he shares, “As an Engineer, you were used to measuring your impact by your own productivity and the quality of your work. However, as an Engineering Manager, your impact is now indirect”. To overcome these challenges, Stefano recommends patience and effective time management using tools like to-do apps.
Surprises during the transition
One surprising aspect of becoming an Engineering Manager, according to Stefano, was understanding the complexity of business mechanics such as pay raises, promotions, and hiring decisions. He emphasises the importance of transparency and communication: “It’s important to be as transparent as possible and to explain the reasons behind these decisions in a way that your reports can understand.”
Developing your leadership style
Stefano advises Engineers looking to develop their leadership style to experiment and find what works authentically for them. He says, “There is no point in trying to emulate a leadership style that is not authentic to you”. Surrounding oneself with inspiring individuals and learning from them can greatly influence leadership development.
Balancing technical expertise with managerial responsibilities
Stefano explains the hybrid approach at The Times, where technical initiatives are led by Principal Engineers while Engineering Managers focus on people management. This is a very common organisational structure that I have seen in countless growing businesses. “My focus is now on building and supporting high-performing teams.” By leveraging his technical expertise, Stefano can understand and support his engineers while delegating technical problem-solving to domain experts such as Principal Engineers.
Building and nurturing high-performing teams
Stefano emphasises the significance of hiring individuals who are not only technically skilled but also a good culture fit. He said bluntly, “Never hire a jerk! I don’t care how technically good a candidate is if they are not a very good culture fit, it’s a pass. Always remember that a single bad apple can spoil the whole barrel!”. Furthermore, fostering a collaborative approach and open communication both contribute heavily to creating a high-performing team.
GDG Cloud London Meetup and Academy
In addition to his role as an Engineering Manager at The Times, Stefano Le Pera is actively involved in the tech community and has created valuable opportunities for growth and learning. As Stefano himself explains, “One thing that helped me a lot in my career was being very active in the tech community.”
Stefano is a lead organiser of the GDG Cloud London meetup group, a platform where technology enthusiasts gather to discuss and explore the latest advancements in the industry. By participating in this community, you can connect with like-minded individuals, expand your network, and gain insights into different industries.
Furthermore, Stefano is the founder of GDG Academy, a mentorship program for students. If you are a student or an aspiring Software Engineer, this academy provides an excellent opportunity to receive guidance from experienced professionals and gain practical knowledge to kickstart your career.
Being involved in the tech community and participating in initiatives like the GDG Cloud London meetup group and GDG Academy can be a gold mine of opportunities. You’ll have the chance to meet inspiring individuals, learn about new technologies, and broaden your horizons.
Take advantage of Stefano’s experience and expertise by joining these initiatives. Connect with him and other industry professionals to strengthen your skills and develop a solid network in the tech world.
Don’t miss out on the chance to grow both personally and professionally. Visit the GDG Cloud London meetup group and explore the opportunities offered by GDG Academy. Seize the opportunity to make valuable connections and enhance your knowledge in the ever-evolving field of technology.
Transitioning from Software Engineering to Engineering Management requires a shift in focus from technical expertise to people and processes. Stefano Le Pera’s insights provide valuable guidance for Software Engineers aspiring to become Engineering leaders. Developing essential soft skills, building trust, resolving conflicts, creating a positive work environment, and nurturing high-performing teams are key aspects to focus on. By embracing these principles, Software Engineers can confidently embark on their journey towards Engineering Management.
I am responsible for the Software Engineering team buildout division at Zeren – if you are seeking your next high-impact role or scaling your team, write to me directly at email@example.com for a confidential discussion.
ZEREN is a global executive search and recruitment firm that exists to empower the world’s change-makers.