What Makes a Great Manager of Software Engineers?

Nov 1, 2017

Having great managers is as critical to success as having a good team or organization. In general, a great manager is seen as fueling the team they manage, enabling it to use its full potential. Though software engineering research studies factors that may affect the performance and productivity of software engineers and teams (like tools and skill), it has overlooked the software engineering manager. The software industry’s growth and change in the last decades is creating a need for a domain-specific view of management. On the one hand, experts are questioning how the abundant work in management applies to software engineering. On the other hand, practitioners are looking to researchers for evidence-based guidance on how to manage software teams. We conducted a mixed methods empirical study of software engineering management at Microsoft to investigate what manager attributes developers and engineering managers perceive important and why. We present a conceptual framework of manager attributes, and find that technical skills are not the sign of greatness for an engineering manager. Through statistical analysis we identify how engineers and managers relate in their views, and how software engineering differs from other knowledge work groups in its perceptions about what makes great managers. We present strategies for putting the attributes to use, discuss implications for research and practice, and offer avenues for further work.

  • Eirini Kalliamvakou
  • Christian Bird
  • Thomas Zimmermann
  • Andrew Begel
  • Robert DeLine
  • Daniel German

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