Paul Kuijten is a developer turned consultant, trainer and coach. He has been working in product development for 25 years, in many different roles in many different companies. He is currently working on the Product Owner Curriculum at, in addition to providing training, and doing interim management, and management consulting. In this interview he tells how to become an engineering manager. Paul is our trainer during Appril2024.

What trait or skill is most important to have as an engineering manager. Which ones are useful as well?

There are many skills and traits important as an engineering manager, just like with any job that qualifies as knowledge work. If I’d have to single one out, it’s being able to manage yourself first! Nobody can become a manager without that. People will not trust you to manage them if you can’t even manage yourself. Other skills and traits that are important are:

  • Empathy. You need to be able to understand where other people are coming from.
    What is their worldview? What motivates them? These kinds of things
  • Fairness. Keep a keen eye on what would be fair. There is nothing people dislike
    more than unfairness.
  • Being comfortable with ambiguity. Just like your code doesn’t always do what it says
    on the box, and there are many ways to solve a problem, people and organizational
    structures have the same issue
  • An keen analytical eye. You need to be able to “see the matrix”. Behaviour and
    culture follows structure, so seeing the structure and what it does is paramount.

If you’re a developer aspiring to become an engineering manager, which steps would you take?

There are many steps you can take and many paths that can lead you to becoming an engineering manager. Many goods books are available on the subject. My recommendation would be to have a general good understanding of the kind of engineering you’re involved with, dive into systems thinking so that you can see the system and start tweaking it and educate yourself on what works in managing people. (hint: people do not need to be managed)

The course is about leadership, Does that require being dominant?

Not at all!!! I think dominance just gets in your way if you’re an engineering manager. The days of thinking that the manager knows best are long behind us. It is about enabling other people and creating an environment for them to thrive in. Nothing to do with dominance.

Where do you get your inspiration? How do you stay up to date?

I only read non-fiction outside of work. So reading books on all sorts of topics relevant to the job is my main source. I also very much like to investigate how successful companies approach the topic of management, like Google or Spotify for instance.

Who is your role model and what was it that made you want to emulate that person?

In my career I had a few great managers. Hans and Erik were the best! They had some commonalities that I think makes great managers:

  • They listened to my ideas and let me pursue them. Sometimes gave me subtle pointers
  • They provided the resources for me to be successful. Eg education, and other people around me.
  • They challenged me when I was on the wrong track. Not content-wise, but more of a “hey, you’re fooling around here” or “hey, what are we gonna do?”

Is there space in this training to discuss participants examples? What if you have questions regarding your daily reality?

The course contains many opportunities to talk about participants daily work experiences. Either in exercises among themselves, reflecting individually, or discuss in a group setting. The course is very much NOT about me telling the participants what the world is like, with power point slides with many bullets.

Would you like to join this course?

Get more info or sign up HERE