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How does promotion work for engineering managers? How is their scope defined?

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Entry-Level Software Engineer [SDE 1] at Amazona year ago

Not a manager here but I strongly feel like understanding my manager's perspective is essential for me to successfully navigate my tech career.

I understand that if a software engineer wants to become promoted, they need to complete projects with increasing scope involving increased technical depth, ambiguity, impact, etc in addition to many other things.

How is this scope defined for engineering managers? Does it work the same way where engineering managers are rewarded for leading a team that develops highly ambitious products in terms of users, features, etc? Does the number of engineers on the team matter? If so, how does an organization prevent empire building from happening?

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    Tech Lead/Manager at Meta, Pinterest, Kosei
    a year ago

    This is a great question and something more software engineers should think about! If you know what motivates your manager, you can understand their actions better, and that can educate how you work with them.

    At some point, I'd love to do a full session with Alex about the life of an eng manager (or someone in the Taro Premium community can lead it), but here's how I think about performance evaluation for a manager:

    • Their team should deliver on the key features and outcomes for the business.
    • The manager recruits and retains the correct engineers on the team.
    • The manager coaches and grows high-potential employees, and removes low performers before they cause too much damage.
    • The manager collaborates with other teams to identify potential issues or opportunities.
    • The manager contributes to the strategy and roadmap for their team and broader org.

    The number of engineers on the team absolutely does matter. Presumably, a larger team means the manager has more scope, more outcomes, and more influence in the company. All of these are necessary prerequisites for getting promoted.

    As you point out, this very often does lead to empire-building. I don't have a great answer on how to prevent that, let me do a bit more thinking.

Amazon.com, Inc. is an American multinational technology company which focuses on e-commerce, cloud computing, and much more. Headquartered in Seattle, Washington, it has been referred to as "one of the most influential economic and cultural forces in the world".
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