business and engineering

I’ve been thinking lately about the balancing act that a lot of engineering managers have to do between serving the needs of “the business” and serving more technological motivations. It’s certainly a tightrope walk. On one hand, the manager’s job is to keep their team’s activity in budget and in line with the higher level goals of the business. I haven’t had those responsibilities, but I can see that they’re both necessary and full of difficulties. Standing opposite of that perspective is the need to stay on top of technological change. Things move fast in the software world, and people who stand still are frequently left behind.

My impression is that the most common mistake that otherwise smart, responsible engineering managers make is to focus on the business aspects of their responsibilities to the exclusion of the technology aspects. This is understandable — presumably their training and earlier professional experience is in technology and thus the general business aspect of the job is what demands their extra attention. However, I’m of the firm opinion that losing enthusiasm for technology, or losing touch with what’s happening with technology is a cardinal sin for someone in technology management.

It’s not just that those sorts of loss represent a dangerous detachment from one’s roots, but also that they take away what would be the technology manager’s edge. They put one in the position of simply being a “person who knows how to talk to the engineers”. There are probably people like that graduating from business school every day. A far rarer creature is the one who could build the system from the ground up by themselves using all of the latest technologies and who also understands how to guide their team to fulfilling the needs of the larger business. It’s the latter person who is in a better position to deliver innovative and timely solutions.

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