3 years have passed since I joined Merpay. And starting Oct 2020, I’ve been an Engineering Manager (=EM). I’m often asked, “What does EM do?”, and I had thought about it before I became an EM, to be honest. I had fear of not writing code, but I figured out something against it. Will look back on this year.

The definition of “EM” in the current company

The definition of “EM” is different between companies. In Merpay, it is as follows:

  • Not a position but a role
  • Manage Strategy, Operation, and Team to create results
  • Has responsible for Who, Where, and When
  • Work in the horizontal axis against vertical projects

Work from a horizontal axis against vertical projects

Expectations for EM are [Engineering Manager Skills] written in Engineering Ladder 1. There are other definitions for “Manager” in general, but I won’t go into them here.

As an EM, I’m in charge of the Frontend team. There are 14 Frontend engineers including 2 EMs. I have 5-6 people as my direct report line.

There are various kinds of EMs:

  • EMs who take both EM and TL, work in a project deeply.
  • EMs who lead team management mainly.
  • EMs who lead project management mainly.

In my case, in the first several months after I became an EM, it was like EM : TL = 5 : 5. I was afraid that I cannot grow as an engineer if not writing code. I was willing to commit to a project so that I can keep my engineering skill and the company hopes that I work as such.

However, when I actually worked, there was not enough time. I delegated what I was doing as TL to other members as soon as possible, and it turned like EM : IC2 = 9 : 1. It depends on the season. Around a quarter end, the ratio of EM is maximized.

Why I became an EM

This was the first company where there are EMs. I had worked at start up companies before and thought that “Everyone should manage by themselves”. Therefore, It was a fresh experience that there were people managing people and organizations

The organization structure called “PM-TL-EM structure” had started in July 2018 3, which was one month before I joined the company. It’s been only 3 years. The structure has been updated along with the growth of the service. In order for a service to grow discontinuously, it is essential that the organizational structure and the people in it change and grow. It was clear for me that the role of management is important for it.

I had a lot of concerns, and had been debating whether to become an EM for over six months. However, one day, I had a 1on1 with an EM, he said “I had a chance to be an EM in my previous job, but I didn’t. Now I think I should have done.”. I thought it’s a timing for me too. Just Do It.

Fear of Not Writing Code

It is said that “You cannot write code if you become an EM”. I believed it because I was an engineer who digs into tech deeply through writing code. It’s true that the time for code is less than before. However, I’ve come to realize that keeping and improving tech skills is not necessarily just about writing and developing products.

What I Got and Lost

Macro Perspective

EMs work in the horizontal axis so the number of people and kinds of jobs are increased overwhelmingly. It is a big change that increases contact with VPs, Directors, etc. who are close to executives. As each person works together as professionals, the prerequisite knowledge required for communication is naturally broader.

First, what I did was understanding things always by reading Slack channels and documents. Channels related to projects plus channels that may seem unrelated. Also, there are huge amounts of internal documents and slides. I searched and read them proactively. I started to read books that I never read before. I’ve stepped in areas not only engineering, but governance, executive strategy, HR, and PR, etc. that I never touched before.

Through working like this, I’ve been able to get a bird’s eye view of the organization, that was one of the skills I got. The view of project inside as TL/IC is different from the view outside. When something happens, anything inside/outside is linked. However, it may seem unreasonable just from the inside. It’s important to understand all inside/outside as much as possible and prepare to tell them to members daily.

Organizational Learning & Pseudo Learning

The growth of an individual brings about changes in the organization, and these changes in the environment further affect the growth of the individual, which is known as “Organizational Learning Cycle” in general. Empowering individuals, managers make the cycle effective to strengthen the team.

As organizational learning accelerates, EM’s own pseudo learning accelerates. Even though not writing code, the tech level that EM faces is improved if the level of the organizational tech skill is improved. Striving for management, the tech skill may be improved that I never came out before.

Verbalization Skills

Verbalization is one of the important skills in management to get others to move. It depends on “how you communicate” whether you’re able to tell. In this Mercari group, there are many managers, I can learn from them. Even though the content may seem simple at first glance, I was able to see up close how he/she strategically verbalized it, paying attention to how and when they expressed it. I’ve seen cases where it worked and cases where it did not work, I feel the difficulty but I’ve been able to accumulate a lot of experience.

Verbalization skill is more important than Language skill. Language skill was one of my concerns, it doesn’t work unless I cannot organize the information, even if I can speak English fluently. I’m not able to tell even in Japanese either. Simple is the best to tell something to someone. Improving verbalization skills was necessary for me.

In this group, about 50% of engineers are foreigners who are not familiar with Japanese. It may be stuff that makes it difficult to communicate for Japanese but verbalization skills is also essential.

Degenerated Skills

As I wrote above, I experienced my growth in skills that may improve my tech skill. On the other hand, there are degenerated skills that is Intuition and Stamina to code. It is the same as sports that you must practice every day to keep your ability. When I coded after a long time, I felt tired significantly, it took time to debug due to the lack of intuition. It’s necessary to code constantly.

Wrap Up

As an engineer/business person, management experience could be a way to expand your insight. You can figure it out after doing. Regarding the fear of not writing code, to experience “Engineering Manager” has given me a lot of new challenges by putting “Coding” aside. If you’re afraid of something, just do it since you can come back anytime.

It was the first year of one engineering manager in Japan. There may be various kinds of perspectives. I would like to talk about management with managers inside/outside the company.

  1. Mercari Engineering Ladder https://engineering.mercari.com/en/ladder/ ↩︎

  2. IC = Individual Contributor. Engineers except for EM and TL. ↩︎

  3. メルペイEMが語る、開発組織の立ち上げから現在までの軌跡 https://logmi.jp/tech/articles/322239 ↩︎