Engineering Roles & Responsibilities

Motivation

When she was around 5 or 6, my daughter asked me the sweetest question: “But, dad, what is it that you do for work?”

At the time, I was running my own company (developing a Waze equivalent – in 2002!) and was also a Managing Partner of a consulting company I co-founded, advising companies on technical strategies in the planning, financing and deployment of multi-purpose wireless networks… not fitting very neatly within the roles she was reading about at school: a fireman or teacher or plumber I wasn’t.

So many years have gone by, a variant of the question still lingers in many people’s minds, so I thought I’d summarize my experience in the following roles:

  • Engineering Manager;
  • Director of Engineering;
  • VP Engineering;
  • Product Manager;
  • Scrummaster

At one time or another, I’ve had one of those roles (apart from Scrummaster – although, several times, I’ve “acted” in that role) and I’ve hired and managed folks in those roles so I thought I’d share my experience in what their responsibilities ought to be.

Scrummaster

  • supports the Scrum team in managing the various tasks/stories/bugs in the Agile tracking systems du jour (eg, Jira, Rally, Pivotal);
  • it may double up as a Release Manager, ensuring all the critical features for the given release are being assigned and tracked;
  • ensures communication flow, especially around blockers and time-sensitive issues;
  • at one end of the spectrum, as someone else put it, it can just be a “glorified admin;” at the other, she may be a very accomplished member of the Eng team, helping things to move along.

Main Day-to-day task:

Track and manage Jira issues and ensure they are up-to-date.

Time horizon:

very tactical; 1-2 Sprints at most.

Product Manager

  • has full awareness of the product features; its positioning in the market (both with respect to customer segments’ needs and competitors’ strategic stance); and the future direction (aka roadmap);
  • full responsibility on features’ relative priority, as well as their time criticality;
  • coordination of different sales’ and account teams’ requests across product development areas;
  • coordination of different engineering teams, and dependencies (advisory);
  • as someone put it: “the bridge between Sales and Engineering”

Main day-to-day task:

Manage the roadmap; Sprint planning and management; backlog grooming.

Time horizon

from tactical (Sprint) to strategic (up to several releases; 6-12 months’ roadmap)

Engineering Manager

  • manages other engineers, of varied level of seniority and expertise;
  • in-depth technical understanding of (areas of) the product;
  • responsible for the welfare of the Eng team; their professional development and growth; primary accountability for their job satisfaction
  • fine granularity resource management (almost at the individual level);
  • hiring and firing (more broadly, performance management);
  • mainly interacts with engineers in the team; other Eng managers; PMs and Scrummaster
  • as I once put it: “the human shield for the team”

Main day-to-day task:

Talking to the engineers and making sure blockers are taken care of; significant amount of coding.

Time horizon

From tactical (never a dull day!) to at most Quarterly (engineers’ performance mgt)

Engineering Director

  • manages Eng Managers (and, possibly, QA Manager; Product Mgr; Release Mgr)
  • good technical understanding of the product as a whole;
  • product architecture knowledge and how the various teams interactions’ impact it;
  • ensuring coordination across teams and cross-functionally (eg, with Sales; Product; QA)
  • end-to-end release management process (including Test/QA/Operations)
  • may have some (or all) of those functions reporting to her too (depending on size/complexity of product; team; organization)
  • responsibility for the delivery of the Engineering practices and processes
  • keep Managers accountable, as well as developing their professional growth

Main day-to-day task:

Mostly, meetings: ensuring all parts of the Eng Organization are working to their most productive; ensuring cross-functional integrity and efficiency.
Some technical work, typically at the architectural level.

Time horizon

Medium-term strategic: typically several Quarters.

VP Engineering

  • owns the Engineering Vision, practices and processes;
  • must have sound architectural understanding of the product and how it fits with other technologies/products (competing; complementary; supporting)
  • may actually own the Product Architecture and actively participate in its inception and development[1]
  • responsible for all the areas that participate in the product delivery process: Development; QA/QE; Testing; Release mgt – depending on the organization, may own Product and Operations (Infrastructure) too.
  • mostly focused on long-term product vision and customer/market needs;
  • works closely with other VPs (and the CTO/CEO) to ensure the organization as a whole is fully aligned with the vision and the strategy;
  • ensures all parts of the Eng org operate at their best productivity and efficiency;
  • as far as product delivery is concerned, “he is where the buck stops”

Main day-to-day task:

Meetings – with other VPs; customers and C-level execs.

Time horizon

Strategic – from several quarters to years out.


[1] I certainly did as a VP – in fact, at least once, I was also Chief Architect.

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