8 Questions to ask your potential future Engineering Manager during an interview

laptop with code on screen

We’re in the middle of a heated tech job market. The most heated tech job market in history!

I don’t know how long it will last. I know that it’s a great time to be an engineer right now. Yet, many people seem to forget a job interview goes both ways. Too many great developers make it through the interview process, asking superficial questions. Reality slaps them in the face when they start in their new role.

Awful team dynamics, managers excluding valuable team members, ego contests, lack of feedback, no proper coaching, etc. The list goes on.

Has this ever happened to you? Read on!

I recognize that not everyone can afford to be picky when looking for a job. It is a privilege. You may even fear coming across as fussy or difficult to work with. However, good interviewers should see real and profound questions as positive. You show that you have clear values and a vision for the kind of organization you want to be a part of. As an experienced interviewer, I promise that you will be better off.

What questions should you be asking though?

Of course, you may want to learn all about the technology stack and their agile practices. Get those questions out of the way ASAP. Ideally, the team should have those publicly documented somewhere.

Let’s go over eight questions you can ask your potential engineering manager. They will help you answer whether you want to work there.

1. ๐Ÿ† What are the expectations of the role? What would you expect from me in 30 days? And in 3 months?

Some managers do not set clear expectations. Awful! Their reports are often surprised during performance reviews. If they can share an actual expectations doc, that would be perfect.

Actual expectations shape culture. That is what the people you may work with will optimize for.

Asking about different timeframes will help you understand the onboarding experience and timeframes.

2. ๐Ÿ”๏ธ What is the team’s biggest challenge?

Does the answer feel like an exciting problem for you to solve? Or is it more like a glimpse into a world of chaos that makes you want to run away and never look back?

3. ๐Ÿค” How are technical decisions made?

Are technical decisions exclusively made by a little boys club no one can join? I have been on the receiving end of that, and it is frustrating as hell. You want to look for a team where individuals of all levels make proposals.

The RFC/ADR format works well. This is because async communication acts as a leveler.

4. ๐Ÿงช How are product decisions made? What role do engineers play?

Are engineers treated like code monkeys, key pushers, or mere resources? In too many places, it’s the Engineering Manager, the only one who talks to the Product Manager.

Are you passionate about the products you build? Then you want to make sure engineers join ideation sessions and even user interviews.

5. ๐Ÿง—โ€โ™€๏ธ What does career progression look like?

When you talk about expectations, it’s a great time to ask about career progression. Are great engineers forced into management as the only option available?

As long as they document expectations, you should be able to check out those for the level above the one you applied for.

6. ๐Ÿค How do you run your 1-1s? What is your coaching style?

Many managers run them as status updates with little to no structure. Instead, 1-1 time should be structured and belong to you. They are a place for you to give and receive feedback, build a trusting relationship, and discuss growth.

7. ๐ŸšŒ What’s your strategy to break down silos and avoid a small bus factor?

Teams where people work in their little corner, will hamper your development. They also tend to descend into chaos when the person who does X is on holiday or ill. Presumably, you want to be part of a team where sharing knowledge is rewarded.

The team may work in cross-functional groups, pair, organize tech talks or run guilds.

8. ๐Ÿšช Think of the last couple of engineers who left. What were their reasons?

The reasons may be complex as people usually are. Now is the moment to try and sense whether you are about to step into a drama fest. Most people who leave because it was the natural step in their career do so in friendly ways.

๐Ÿ™Œ Want more?

I recently wrote The David test, a list of questions to evaluate engineering teams. You may also find inspiration there.

Did you ever ask a question that provides you with lots of insight about the company you were about to join? Please do share!

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