10+ Best Engineering Manager Interview Questions & Answers

An outsider with an MBA can’t manage engineers like an engineer can. In many ways, engineering management is just like engineering with one notable difference: instead of building products, we’re building teams who can perform. However, becoming an engineering manager requires a lot of work. In this article, we’ll cover the role of an engineering manager, as well as know the best engineering manager questions and answers. Let's get started!

engineering manager interview questions

What Is an Engineering Manager?

An engineering manager is a professional who’s experienced in both engineering and management, giving them a unique position of organizing and overseeing complex technological projects.

If companies who want to advance in the field of engineering hire run-of-the-mill managers, they lack the knowledge of the field and the problem-solving skills only engineers have.

What Is the Role of Engineering Managers?

Engineering managers typically operate in one (or more) of the following six areas: operations management/research/supply chain management, management of technology, product development, and engineering, systems engineering, industrial engineering, and management science.

These unique fields call for a unique role. And for engineers, a management position can be a great way to advance our careers. Here’s what we can expect to be asked in a job interview for that position.

Engineering Manager Interview Questions & Answers

1. What do you believe you’ll achieve as an engineering manager that you couldn’t achieve as an engineer?

I believe my role as an engineering manager will make communication between clients and engineering teams easier for our company. In this position, I’ll be able to help the clients understand the process, and help the engineers understand the clients’ expectations. This will make it much easier to set the right budgets and expectations so everyone’s satisfied with the outcome. I also look forward to offering my insight to the engineering talent at our company.

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

Managing small teams makes it much easier to communicate with each team member and focus on one project at a time. However, managing a large team makes for a large impact when it comes to research and development.

3. How would you describe the difference between leadership and management?

For me, a good manager should both lead and manage. When I think about management, I think about managing processes, projects, and people. In that respect, I’m outcome-driven and focused on optimizing everything we can and providing support to my team so the clients and the company are satisfied with what we produced. Leadership, on the other hand, means rolling up my sleeves and understanding the people I work with. By being a good leader, a manager like me can make sure engineers are satisfied with their jobs and feeling like they’re advancing with each project. In the long term, that helps the team, the company, and our clients.

4. So how would you describe the role of an engineering manager?

In my eyes, an engineering manager has to be able to change a lot of hands. From product design and development to communication. As engineering managers, we have three priorities: optimizing the workflow, staying ahead of the curve with developments, and helping our talent grow. When it comes to optimizing the workflow, this can consist of: supply chain management, operations management, and research, industrial engineering, and systems engineering. Our main goal should be reducing waste and improving efficiency. It’s also important to stay ahead of the curve so the company is constantly getting a competitive advantage over the rest of the market. This includes assisting with product research, creating a strategy to guide the engineers in the right direction, and keeping up with industry news. Finally, we have to help our employees grow if we want to retain them. This should include coaching, career development, and focusing on our engineers as though they were our clients.

5. How would you approach coaching?

That depends on the engineering team and each individual engineer. Some teams may be comfortable with evaluations strong on feedback and monthly meetings. Others may prefer workshops where they’re actively solving problems. In any case, I would determine what the main strengths and weaknesses of the team are, and help them improve accordingly. I would also hold one-on-one coaching sessions with individual members of the engineering team to learn more about their goals, and where they see their career going.

6. How do you manage engineers with performance issues?

Just like I manage those who perform well: I help them improve. Typically, there’s always a cause behind behaviors that cause poor performance. I do my best to understand the engineer and the root causes. Then, I help them re-focus on their career and their position on the team.

7. How would you structure your 1:1s?

First, I’d set a schedule according to the engineer’s needs. Then, we’d create an agenda for a longer period of time that includes both their performance-related KPIs and metrics and their career KPIs. We’d establish a baseline for performance, as well. Each meeting would have a separate agenda. First, we’d start by communicating on current projects and challenges to break the ice. Then we’d define the highlights, as the engineer sees them. After that, we can discuss long term goals in relation to short term performance improvements. Finally, we’d set a list of to-dos for the next meeting.

8. What do you look for when hiring new engineers?

I look for expertise and teamwork. Since engineering is a demanding field that requires more heads than one to approach a task, an ideal hire is someone who’s flexible when it comes to working with other experts.

9. How do tech leads and engineering managers work together?

In smaller companies, the engineering manager should be technology leads. However, in big companies, tech leads are responsible for the progress and the outcomes of each team. I like to think of them as the spokespeople for each team. Tech leads can help engineering managers understand the people and the projects they’re managing better, and offer a unique hands-on insight to improve the system in the future.

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

I’d develop them by giving every engineering the room to develop their unique strengths. I think that, without understanding every individual and what makes them so good at their job, it’s very hard to nurture tech leads from engineers. It goes without saying that when I’d notice that someone is showing the potential, I’d speak with upper management about allocating a budget to invest into their education even more. Both on tech and communication.

11. How do you resolve conflicts within teams?

If possible, I serve as a mediator between team members who disagree. I focus on giving everyone a chance to speak their mind and then help the team reach the right decision together while keeping the company’s best interests in mind. If that’s not possible, I talk to engineers one on one to see what the root cause is, and then walk the team through resolving it. This approach means that in the long term, they’ll have the necessary abilities to resolve the conflicts themselves and feel better about their roles.

12. How do you manage multiple high-priority projects?

If my team, or teams, have multiple tasks that are all highly important, I focus on setting a schedule that suits them and dividing the attention between tasks. By the time the projects are 75% complete, we can either finish them through 2 sprints or by dividing the engineers according to the projects that still need their attention. If that’s not possible, I’d order projects by difficulty and I’d delegate tasks among engineers according to their specialties.

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

My main focus is on budget and time. In my experience, clients who see the minimum viable product are more willing to increase their budget if they have tangible proof of our teams’ expertise and a vision of what their product would look like with a little more funds.

14. How do you approach tech debt?

When the possibility of tech debt arises because of the client’s expectations, I clearly communicate the reasons behind it to educate them on what we could do better. I understand that clients aren’t as familiar with technology as my team is, so I relay the advantages and the disadvantages of every suggestion.

15. What is your stance on code ownership? Should it be individual?

Code ownership is mainly why I’m an advocate of teamwork and collaboration. A single engineer can’t finish the project, so I believe that there shouldn’t be any individual code ownership. However, recognizing individual engineers’ contribution is absolutely necessary, as well as recognizing the team’s achievements. This helps everyone feel more satisfied with the project they’ve finished, without the need to explicitly state code owners.

author: patrick algrim
About the author

Patrick Algrim is an experienced executive who has spent a number of years in Silicon Valley hiring and coaching some of the world’s most valuable technology teams.

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