Engineering Manager Interview questions

Who should read it: It is for you if you are looking for a quick overview of this topic for an interview or in general.

How will you prioritize tasks for the team members?

I will answer this questions as below. I prioritize tasks as per business priority and  level of efforts.

Source: MindTools

Per the matrix above, I prefer High impact tasks. If the impact is high and efforts are low, these are first tasks to be picked up. Then next comes high impact and high efforts.

You are leading a team of three developers. How would you divide the tasks among them?

I will prefer to pair two developers for each task and will assign one as a primary and the another one, as a secondary. If a developer is primary for a task, I will assign him/her as a secondary to another task. This helps in following ways:

  •  If a developer with primary task responsibility goes on a vacation, the secondary developer can pick up the task with the minimum ramp up time.
  • It provide the opportunity for the secondary developer, to learn the tasks. That way, it helps to continue building the knowledge base.

In what ways you have upgraded your skills set of your team?

Answer: I prefer to train my developers on new tasks as per their interest level. For example, if a data analyst is interested in learning Python, I prefer to prepare the developer in advance on Python skills with less urgent tasks to practice This allows the developer to learn and practice the skills without an urgency to deliver.

Your project is running behind the schedule. How would you communicate this to other teams? How would you communicate this to executive team?

I will get the opinions from the team about the options for the communication. In the communication plan, I will plan to have the postmortem details as well.

While communicating to executive team, I will clarify if I am looking for any help from them or is it just an update. In the communication, I will ensure to have the impact clarified clearly. If I am looking for their feedback, I will first prepare some options. While preparing details and presenting details to executive team, I will ensure writing and speaking details in the order of high priority first and lower priority later. This prioritization will allow me to skip lower priority items, if there is no enough time or a time cut, to go over all the details.

When working with product or project managers, have you disagreed with task prioritization? How did you resolve this? 

When working with project and product managers, I have disagreed many times. Sometimes their perspective and my perspectives differ. In my experience, the best way to come to a common ground is by looking at the common goal itself. Both project/product manager and engineering manager want to deliver the best possible results within the given constraints. I prefer to discuss various options and then, collaboratively decide the best.

In what ways do you support your team as they work on projects?

I prefer to set-up time with each member to:

  • Understand the progress, problems, and next steps on their projects.
  • Encourage members to come to me for any prioritization exercise, as needed.
  • Discuss their goals periodically, to understand their tasks alignment with their goals and the company goals. If I see the gap, I prefer to reset tasks/projects as needed. Challenge them within a possible limit for their career growth.

What do you believe you will achieve as an engineering manager that you could not achieve as an engineer?

My role as an engineering manager will help me manager an area of expertise by my team. I can manage the customers’ and engineers’ expectations. I can attract right talent for my team and help them in their career growth and align it with company’s career growth.

What are the specifics of managing small teams versus large engineering teams?

With the smaller team, communication and tasks management is easier. If the team size is larger, it is helpful to assign leads or create subgroups within the same team.

How would you describe the difference between leadership and management?

Management is about controlling tasks and resources towards a goal. Leadership means ability to influence and enable others towards organizational success.

How would you describe the role of an engineering manager?

To me, this means, managing many things. An engineering manager is responsible for team’s vision, talent growth, project management of deliverables, cross-functional relationships & tasks expectations, funding discussions, customers expectations management, and many more.

How would you approach coaching?

It depends on the situation. If an engineer prefers periodic meetings, I meet with him/her using periodic meetings. I provide feedback in private and as soon as possible and as often as needed. I also ensure praising for the improvements.

How would you manage engineers with performance issues?

I meet with the individual and  try to understand his/her perspective on the performance and the reasons behind it. I also prefer to understand if the individual is still driven with the same goal or if he/she is looking for a changed role. Depending on the situation, I make a plan and period check-ins.

How would you structure your 1:1s?

I prefer to keep 1:1s possible at the consistent time every week. In these 1:1s, I prefer to let direct reports drive the content.  In 1:1s, I prefer to discuss immediate, long term, and other needs.

What do you look for when hiring new engineers?

I look for their experience in technical expertise, communication skills, and teamwork skills. I also look for their flexibility.

How do tech leads and engineering managers work together?

This depends on the team size. Generally, tech leads are knowledgeable and responsible for the technical deliverables. Engineering manager ensures that tech leads have all the resources needed, to be successful in their goals.

How would you develop tech leads if there aren’t any on your team?

I will develop them as per their strengths. Depending on role needs, I will ensure the training and exposure for their success.

How do you resolve conflicts within teams?

Conflicts are inevitable and must be resolved as soon as possible. Some conflicts are easier to resolve whereas some are difficult to resolve. Conflicts could be turned into healthy conversations.

First, in 1:1 meetings, I will prefer to discuss the conflict and individual’s perspectives on the conflict.I would encourage them to think of different options of the situation and their reactions to each outcome. I will also guide them towards company’s best interest. I will also prefer engineers to learn resolving conflicts via the available trainings.

How do you manage multiple high-priority projects?

I will suggest a prioritization exercises periodically. I will suggest team members to break projects into manageable tasks. Then, I will suggest to sequence the tasks of multiple projects as per the situation.

How do you manage the triple constraint of budget, scope, and time?

For the budget, I prefer to be as flexible as possible. There could be different ways to manage the budget for the projects.

For the scope, I will prefer to stick to the defined project scope. If there is addition to the scope, I will suggest to plan for a separate release. This can be done with a prioritization exercise.

For the time, it is important to stick to the project schedule. if a project is behind the schedule, I will prefer my team to call it out as soon as they know. As risk matrix can be very helpful in it.

How do you approach tech debt?

Tech debt refers to the work that adds up later, due to a short term, quick fix solution. It is not always a bad thing depending on the situation. Maybe a product needs a quick launch, with the minimum viable product. It can also arise when developers have the unrealistic deadlines. In the reality, sometimes, a quick fix is needed. In such situation, I prefer to plan for a short term, mid term, and a long term solution.

How would you assist an engineer who is struggling with their work?

I will  set-up a time with him/her to understand the reasons behind it. It may be a personal issue, a lack of a skill, an interpersonal issue, a lack of interest in the particular task, or something else. Depending on the situation, I will discuss options with the individual. After the discussion, together, we will decide a plan to move forward.

How do you help engineers understand the “big picture” of their work?

I prefer to help the team understand the company’s overall goal. Then, step by step, I drill down to the department and then, to the business unit using the particular software. For example, if there is a business goal for the work, how an engineer’s work contribute to the business, to the department, and finally to the company. This helps in setting up the big picture to the engineers.

How do you prioritize work outside of SCRUM and agile methodology?

I will understand the business needs and business roadmap. Depending on the business need and roadmap, I will plan the process to support the business. This will help to prioritize and define the speed of the tasks.

How do you manage career growth for your team?

I discuss the career plan for the team periodically. I always aim to align current tasks with company’s goals and individuals’ career aspirations. I prefer to support the training and exposure to individuals as per their career goals.

How do you handle promoting someone as a manager?

At first, I’d like to understand why an individual wants to move to a management path. This evaluation will help individuals to assess their career choices. After the individual finalizes the goal and decides to move into a management role, I’d coach and mentor the individual towards his/her career goal and provide him/her the opportunity to experience people skills within the current role.

How do you communicate about technical project needs with non-technical teams?

I prefer to keep it as generic and less-technical jargon as possible.

Talk about high level system design of a specific project.
What things were done to scale the system.
Using load balancer for memcache servers.
What type of testing strategies can be used to test features.
Looking back what would you have done differently in the project.




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