Shows like “The IT Crowd” and “Silicon Valley” perfectly exemplify most people’s expectations of tech professionals: anxious, callous, hardworking and male. Unfortunately, unlike other stereotypes, this one seems to hold true. The tech industry is largely a boy’s club, with major tech companies placing females in tech jobs at rates as low as 15 percent. Just as bad, psychologists consistently determine tech workers’ emotional maturity to be low and their social awkwardness to be high.
Considering this, it is astonishing that anything gets done in the tech world. In truth, it is entirely likely that nothing would be accomplished without the diligent efforts and vastly different skillset of a less-than-appreciated group of tech workers: managers.
Managers might not be elbow-deep in code for most of the day — they might not even touch code for much of their careers — but if anything, that makes them more in-demand throughout the tech industry. Here’s what an engineering manager looks like and why they are so critical to the high functioning of tech businesses.
What Managers Do
Most tech workers are workaholics, but their efforts are often misdirected. Many workers hyper-focus on projects that are interesting or challenging despite the overwhelming need for work on straightforward, potentially dull tasks. Without managers, work would get done — but it wouldn’t be the work that a tech business truly needs.
Across industries, engineering managers assess product viability, coordinate teams, direct projects and oversee designs. Unlike the programmers in the trenches, managers’ jobs don’t revolve around code; they revolve around people. Managers are constantly thinking about how to ensure that individuals meet their needs while the business meets its goals. This often means balancing the day-to-day with the year-to-year; creating a balance between enduring productivity and positive morale.
More recently, this has meant busting up enduring stereotypes and building a more diverse tech workforce. Introducing talented women and people of color to tech teams improves performance and ensures a lasting future of innovation and progress. Though the old boys’ club of tech might have been less inclusive in the past, it is the duty of tech management to build strong and all-encompassing teams that get jobs done.
How Managers Get There
It is possible for a manager to rise from the muck and mire of programmers and developers — but it isn’t likely. Those with personalities and qualifications ideal for management often seek those positions directly rather than wading through code for years on end, waiting to receive a promotion. Thus, tech professionals intent on earning management positions should make their goals known and bolster their credentials by seeking an online engineering master’s degree.
Like other professional master’s degrees, an engineering management master’s equips students with the skills and knowledge for upper-level positions. Most often, these programs are run by both engineering and business schools, so students develop management techniques while refining their engineering know-how. Regardless of industry, engineering managers must be effective communicators, making up for the well-known shortcomings of their teams, but they must also be capable of understanding engineering tasks and examining work for errors. Thus, returning to school for an advanced degree in engineering management is beneficial.
Why Management Matters
A business can be set up for success — placed in a market sweet spot, guaranteed to grow — but it won’t succeed without management. Conversely, the market could be receding rapidly, but management could ensure a business’s success. This is because efficiency of work, loyalty of workers, quality of products and other critical elements hinge entirely upon management.
In tech, when workers are not often equipped with skills and knowledge to direct business processes — skills such as communication, organization, time management and more — management matters even more. Because the tech industry has found it exceedingly difficult to break through its workers’ stereotypes, tech businesses need managers to provide direction, facilitate relationship-building, add diversity and more. It is critical for tech startups and tech empires alike to recognize the value of qualified and experienced managers and hire them in droves. The tech industry won’t eliminate its stereotypes overnight, but with concerted effort, it could cultivate a reputation of maturity, charm and inclusivity over the coming decades.