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Would you recommend SDEs try a rotation as an SDM?

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Entry-Level Software Engineer [SDE 1] at Amazon2 years ago

Would you recommend software engineers try a rotation as an SDM (software development manager)? What benefits or drawbacks would you say would come from making that switch to SDM?

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(4 comments)
  • 3
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    Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero, PayPal
    2 years ago

    Is rotation like some sort of probationary period where you're only a manager for 6 months or something? If that's the case, I'm averse to it. If an SDE switches into SDM, doesn't like it, and then switches back to SDE, that causes a lot of thrash for the manager - Management is something you should go into for the long haul.

    For benefits/drawbacks, it depends on what your preferences are as an engineer and person, but here's my take:

    Benefits

    • You get to play a huge part in growing people and their success. This is an extremely fulfilling experience when done well.
    • You will develop strong soft skills, especially leadership ability.
    • You are forced to build a more holistic view of the overall product and the people behind it.

    Drawbacks

    • You'll get stuck in meetings a lot.
    • You don't get to code anymore.
    • You will inevitably run into politics.
    • You have to make tough calls in general, like whether or not you should cut a low performer.

    Another way to approach this situation is to take on just some managerial responsibilities and behaviors without doing a full-blown rotation as an SDM. Here's my guide on how to do that: "How do I figure out how managerial my career path should be?"

    I also recommend asking yourself, "Why do I want to get into management?". There are many good and bad reasons to become an engineering manager:

    Good

    • You enjoy growing and taking care of people.
    • You are happy to fill in the gaps however you can, mostly in non-technical ways.
    • You want to empower entire teams.

    Bad

    • You want the prestige from being in a position of authority.
    • You want to get away from coding.
    • This is what career advancement is to you: Having a manager title instead of an IC title.

    Lastly, I recommend our masterclass on what a good engineering manager (EM) looks like and how the best EMs empower their team: [Masterclass] What Software Engineers Should Look For In Their Engineering Manager

  • 4
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    Meta, Pinterest, Kosei
    2 years ago

    Usually the transition to management happens at a more senior level, e.g. senior or staff engineer. Even if it's possible to rotate as an SDM before that, I would not recommend it, since it'll be harder for you to build the trust with the team you manage.

    The important question here is around why you want to get into management. Most engineers find the transition quite painful, and you'll probably have to be ok with a bit of a slower career progression, at least for a year or so while you pick up management.

  • 7
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    Staff SWE at Google, ex-Meta, ex-Amazon
    2 years ago

    I want to write real replies here that are bespoke to the asker, AND I have written on a lot of topics on LinkedIn already. I don’t want to drag people away from Taro, nor copy-paste, so I will answer briefly but then link relevant things at the end.

    Briefly: No. There is no reason to do this unless you really want a career change to a different role.

    Not at all briefly: This isn’t a promotion from SDE, or the next step. Being an SDM is a much different job, even from a team lead role. Your love for planning projects or developing people is not sufficient. The amount of managing up and out is tremendous.

    You may learn a few things being a manager that will make you a better IC if you come back. You can learn them other ways.

    If you want to explore, do take some of your manager’s responsibilities outside of direct team management. Write some of their docs, go to some meetings to represent your team. See if you love those aspects.

    Don’t do this without tremendous support. If who you will be reporting to isn’t L7 or long-tenured L6 that has MANAGED MANAGERS BEFORE, they will have a hard time teaching you as you ramp up. This is not something to do without a net.

    There and Back Again - My journey from IC engineer to SDM and back

    Qualities for an Engineering Manager, in 2 parts

  • 2
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    Mid-Level Software Engineer at Other
    5 months ago

    I echo all the comments made by Lee especially. Part of the reason I ever considered just going back to IC is that while I can facilitate and lead meetings and manage people (a rarer skill I find with engineering and technician folks the more I move up), but I felt like I was getting too far away from code, too removed from the technology and contributing what I found valuable as opposed to “my team did X.” It’s great to be a leader, but knowing I had more of my fingerprint on something more technically made me and still makes me most happy. Most of the happy CTO and founder types never leave coding a bit. Just my two cents.

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