A Day in the Life of an Engineering Manager

2016, May 24    

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I started tracking how I spend my time at work in March of this year. It’s been a couple months, so I’ve got a good breakdown of time now, and I thought it might be interesting to share with any other engineers who want to know what the day to day is like as an engineering manager.

My current role

First, a little bit about Packback and my role here. I joined Packback when there were just four of us. It was essentially myself and the founders. Since then, we’ve raised $3.5 million and now have 20 people at the company. Our engineering team is still pretty lean - there are five of us now - but my role has obviously changed quite a bit in the past two and a half years. My role as the Head of Engineering at Packback comprises two main things:

  1. Making sure our website works and continues to improve
  2. Helping everyone in the company understand what’s technically possible

Along the way, I’ve had to hire people, build processes to make things run smoothly, and a million other little things, but my goal is really pretty simple: keep Packback’s technology running.

So how do I spend my time?

Like I said, I started tracking my hours with Jiffy to see how I might improve my use of time, and while I haven’t gotten to the optimization phase yet, I have gotten a decent look at my day to day. Here’s the breakdown with details of each kind of task below:

  • 32% Technical
  • 36% Managerial
  • 17% Promotional
  • 16% Administrative

engineering-manager-time

Technical

Technical work includes writing code (22%), code reviews (6%), hunting down bugs (2.5%), and reading up on best practices (1.5%). As my team has grown, the amount of time I solidly devote to technical work has predictably dwindled, but I do think it’s important for engineering managers to spend at least 30% of their time elbows deep in the code.

Managerial

This includes general management tasks and planning (15%) as well as meetings with technical and non-technical team members (21%). Making sure my team is happy by being their advocate in business meetings and helping our non-technical product team create better specs is all a part of this bucket of time.

Promotional

A lot of engineers cringe at the word “promotion,” but when you struggle through hiring your first employee, you’ll see where all that work pays off. This includes going to conferences, meetups, and other hiring-related outreach (16%) as well as writing blog posts (1%). I spend more of my time with promotion-related tasks when we’re hiring, but even when we’re not I think it’s important to keep Packback’s name out there and continue making connections for the future.

Administrative

This includes reading and writing emails (4%) as well as answering questions, random asides, and “other” day to day things (12%). I try as much as possible to keep this kind of cruft out of the engineering team’s hair, so when someone has a tech-support question, it likely falls to me.

Takeaways

Most experienced managers will tell you this, but being a good manager is all about helping others achieve great things. This means that your technical impact is much less direct, and therefore, you can’t spend all your time heads down in the code. It was frustrating for me at first because I saw my weekly accomplishments list shrink, but once I learned to accept that my team was getting more done without my individual contributions than I could do on my own, I started to really enjoy my role. If you’re an aspiring engineering manager or you’re just wondering what your boss does with his time, I hope this helps you out. Also, if you’ve got feedback for me, you’re welcome to let me hear your thoughts on Twitter.