7 tips for Engineering Managers who also have to write code now

by Andrew Murphy


In recent months, a concerning trend has begun to manifest across the engineering industry, as described by this article.

Companies are increasingly choosing to compress the role of Engineering Manager into a primarily technical function - focussed more on writing code than building and supporting their team.

This decision, often driven by short-term financial considerations, fails to appreciate the broader value that Engineering Managers bring to an organisation. They are not mere technical resources but the glue of the team, which fosters innovation, nurtures talent and aligns technical goals with business objectives.

To be clear, I don’t endorse this reductionist approach. Leading takes a lot of time - putting out fires, preparing and leading meetings, creating and managing roadmaps, overseeing recruitment/onboarding, supporting your peers, handling conflict, and communicating with other disciplines/stakeholders.

However, some of my readers are finding themselves in a situation now where they are having to do it all - leading and supporting their team, and fulfilling the short-term technical objectives.

I hope the practical tips in this post will help you to navigate this challenging situation if you find yourself unexpectedly back “on the tools.”

Prioritise your self care

It’s taxing to have to lead and code at the same time. You can spend all day working hard, doing your best, all whilst feeling like you’re just trying to stay afloat.

Taking care of yourself is not a sign of weakness or indulgence; your own well-being and internal narrative are essential to yourself, and your team. See all of this as “putting your own mask on first” so you can help and support your team.

Here are some tips:

Set realistic expectations for yourself

Acknowledge that you’re in a tough phase of your career. Set clear, achievable tasks and have a think about the number of tasks that you can realistically complete.

Even having a list of 5 things to do every day may seem unrealistic when you need a buffer to deal with things that need your attention all of a sudden.

Recognise that perfection is not the goal and also don’t forget to celebrate progress, no matter how small it is. It can be easy to get caught up in the day-to-day tasks and forget that we are achieving small successes every day. Setting time aside at the end of each day/week/sprint to reflect on your, and your team’s, successes can help with this.

Seek Support

Don’t tackle all the problems you have alone - reach out to peers, mentors, or professional networks, where you might find other tech folks who are in a similar position as you. Perhaps reach out and see if you could connect and have a 1-1 chat with them.

Communities such as CTO School Australia and Rands Leadership Slack have regular online discussions, in-person and remote events, and even group coaching sessions that can provide guidance and help, a different perspective, insights and encouragement.

Focus on your health - physical and mental

Your body is a biological machine and if you don’t keep it running smoothly then your brain won’t function at peak performance. Investing in regular exercise, proper nutrition, frequent breaks, and adequate sleep can make a huge difference in how you tackle your challenges. These are not “lifestyle choices” but essential factors that influence your performance and decision-making.

Take your lunch break, eat it away on your own if you need to just have some time to yourself. Go for a break and get away from your computer. It’s funny how many times I’ve gone for a walk with a problem and then immediately thought of a solution when I got back to my desk.

Additionally, consider mindfulness practices, hobbies, or activities that relax and rejuvenate you. Manage stress through techniques like meditation or deep breathing exercises. If you’re cycling down into stressful thoughts then you can’t keep a clear mind to handle them.

Lastly, establish clear boundaries between work and personal life. Spend quality time with family and friends, and allow yourself breaks to recharge. Try to not think about work once you’ve finished for the day. Don’t let all of those questions and challenges creep into your thoughts

These tips might seem like indulgences, but they are not. If you don’t focus on your own physical and mental health you aren’t going to be in the right place to help your team.

Burning yourself out helps no one.

Focus your time on the most impactful work

As you transition into a more hands-on technical role, the challenge lies not only in adapting to new responsibilities but also in discerning what elements of leadership must be retained and what can be adjusted or delegated.

Here are some things to not drop, and some things you can consider delegating.

Things you SHOULD NOT drop:

Communication and Collaboration

Breakdown in communication causes inefficiencies that will eat up your time and your team’s time. Continue to facilitate open communication within your team and with other stakeholders (teams, departments, disciplines).

If you have regular 1-1’s perhaps you could reduce the frequency of them so you’re still connecting with your team. This also helps ensure you are not constantly moving the 1-1s if your workload gets too much; skipped 1-1s are a sign to your team that you are prioritising things other than them!

Keep an eye open for places where communication might be lacking and break from your tech work to make sure it happens. Ensure that collaboration is encouraged and that team members feel supported when they are talking to other teams.

Team Development and Mentoring

Development and mentoring have a disproportionate return on your invested time. If you do something for somebody then it only gets it done once, teach someone else to do it and they can do it every time afterwards.

The first time you teach them, it will take longer than if you had done the task yourself, but this is an investment in your time. In the future, it will take less and less time and eventually, they can teach others in your stead.

Maintain your role in nurturing and developing team members, providing regular feedback, and fostering growth.

Vision and Strategy Alignment

Building the thing “in the right way” (technical architecture and skill) always needs to come second to building “the right thing” (vision, strategy and alignment).

Continuing to ensure that all technical efforts align with the team’s overall vision and strategic goals is how you build “the right thing”.

Any time you spend ensuring that you are focussing your, and your team’s, efforts in the right direction is essential work!

Things a Leader Might Consider Adjusting or Delegating:

Direct Involvement in All Technical Tasks

If you are using your technical expertise in the work you do, make sure it is in the most impactful place. If you can, focus on your existing technical competencies rather than trying to reskill/retrain and, where it is not, delegate to others.

Additionally, over-involvement in technical tasks may stifle the growth of team members by not allowing them to take ownership and responsibility. By empowering team members with autonomy over specific tasks and providing guidance and support when needed, you can foster a culture of growth and accountability.

Moreover, immersing oneself in every technical detail can lead to a loss of focus on the strategic direction and broader organisational objectives. It's essential to maintain a balance by aligning technical involvement with strategic goals, keeping an eye on the big picture, and ensuring that the technical efforts align with the company's overall vision.

Non-Essential Meetings

Reduce or delegate attendance at meetings that don't require your direct input, focusing only on those essential for strategic decisions. These may include routine status updates, brainstorming sessions for some upcoming projects, or meetings where your presence is customary/ceremonial rather than critical.

Do you really need to attend that meeting with accounting about the new payroll process? Or, can you watch the playback at 2x speed? Can you ask a senior team member to attend that meeting with Product Management about the new feature they want?

Delegating attendance at these meetings to competent team members can free up your time to focus on areas where your expertise is most needed.

This doesn't mean completely disconnecting from these discussions; instead, it's about recognising which meetings require your direct involvement and which can be handled by others. Brief summaries or reports from those who attend in your place can keep you informed without requiring your physical presence.

This approach requires trust in your team and clear communication about what constitutes a non-essential meeting. By cultivating a culture where team members feel empowered to represent leadership in these contexts, you not only free up your time but also provide opportunities for others to grow in responsibility and confidence

Recruitment and Onboarding

Recruitment and onboarding are essential components of building and maintaining a strong team. However, as an Engineering Manager taking on additional technical responsibilities, you may find it practical to delegate or collaborate with others on these tasks.

Hiring the right talent requires time and attention to detail. While your insights and final decisions are crucial, initial stages such as screening resumes, conducting preliminary interviews, and coordinating with recruitment agencies might be delegated to HR/P&C or senior team members. Collaborating with HR/P&C ensures that they understand the technical requirements and cultural fit, allowing them to handle the early stages of recruitment efficiently. This is an investment in your time that will take longer in the beginning than if you just did it all yourself, but it will pay off in the long run.

Bringing new team members up to speed is another critical process that ensures they feel supported and can add value as quickly as possible. While it's essential for a leader to set the tone and expectations, the detailed orientation process can be shared with senior team members. They can handle the introduction to software codebase, product features, ways of working, tools, and processes. Your involvement can then focus on aligning the new member with the team's vision, goals, and culture, ensuring a personal connection without having to oversee every aspect of the onboarding process.

Make the most of your “Leadership time” by focusing on your personal productivity

First, let’s acknowledge that the idea of completing everything on your to-do list is a myth.


You must adapt to three realities:

  1. Self-Scheduling:

     Unlike in your past as an IC, now you must schedule the work yourself. The only person responsible for your own time and productivity is you!

  2. Reactive Work:

     Much of your leadership work can be reactive, requiring immediate attention.

  3. Proactive Work:

     Within all of this, you need to find time for strategic and constant improvement work which is the truly valuable, and impactful, leadership work.

These factors make it difficult to have a clear and easy-to-follow to-do list. It’s essential to take ownership of your time and productivity, focusing on what’s most impactful.

Structure your week into Technical & Leadership Time

Structure your day/week to allocate specific blocks for “Technical Time” and “Leadership Time”. This clear division helps in maintaining a balance, ensuring that neither role overshadows the other.

Additionally, when you consider how to use your leadership time, utilise a framework for prioritisation and delegation, such as the Eisenhower Matrix.

The Eisenhower Matrix, named after President Dwight D. Eisenhower, is a time management tool. This matrix has two axes – importance and urgency – and it brings clarity in differentiating between what is urgent and what is truly important.

Urgent: Tasks that must be executed immediately to gain the value they have in completing them, but we are making no judgement on what that value is. They merely have time criticality.

Important: Tasks that have high value and contribute to long-term objectives and goals. They have an impact.

Important and Urgent

These tasks have high time criticality and high impact. These are tasks that you need to complete yourself due to their immediate necessity and significance. Due to their urgent nature, they typically need to be handled straight away and cannot wait for “Leadership Time”.

Important but Not Urgent

These tasks have long-term implications and high impact, like planning the next sprint, building relationships with your team members and peers, researching new practices, etc. These should be the focus of your “Leadership time”. You may choose to delegate these, but regular check-ins and reviews are needed to ensure delivery.

Urgent but Not Important

Tasks that make you feel busy, but could be done by someone else. They are things such as assisting a team member with a task they could complete themselves, administrative tasks, attending less-critical meetings, etc. These kinds of tasks should be delegated whenever possible.

Not Important and Not Urgent

These include activities like aimless scrolling on social media, unrelated work seminars, etc. They can be eliminated from your schedule.

Remember that time management is as much about what you don’t do as it is about what you do. Delegation isn’t just about passing tasks due to an overwhelming workload. It’s a strategic decision that encourages team members to take ownership, fostering a sense of accountability for the team’s outcomes. It also offers opportunities for team members to grow and develop their skills.


If you’re in this unenviable situation remember that the essence of what leadership is remains and, even in the face of change, it's your ability to adapt that will define your continued success.

Your success hinges on more than just your technical prowess. Balancing your leadership responsibilities, maintaining your strategic outlook, nurturing the team dynamics, and taking care of your personal well-being are all crucial components.

This transition will be fraught with challenges, but the guidance provided in this article aims to equip you with the tools and insights needed to survive. Embrace it and you'll not only succeed in your technical tasks but also continue to inspire and lead your team towards greater achievements, together.


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