20 Engineering manager interview questions

20 Engineering manager interview questions

What kind of questions can you expect if you have an upcoming interview for an engineering manager? Every engineering team needs some type of manager to manage the team to be more efficient and to protect it from outside noise and disturbance.

Even though engineering managers are managers, they are engineers first and foremost, so the questions on the interview will heavily reflect that. It is very difficult to find good engineers that are willing to manage people and are also good at it, so if you think you fall into this group you can consider yourself lucky.

Technical experience required for an engineering manager

From my experience, an engineering manager needs to show at least the same amount of experience as a senior engineer if not more. In some cases, they might not need to be so up to date with the latest frameworks, but they definitely need to understand the broader picture of software development in general. They must understand software system design principles, architecture principles and how to prepare a development plan.

As they are managing a team they must be highly proficient in agile methodologies and be able to run the role of an Agile coach or a scrum master.

The technical part of the interview questions

As I already covered the technical part of questions that you might find in an interview in my post of 30 interview questions for a technical architect, I will not repeat them here as well. The only difference is that you might have a higher emphasis on coding itself than an architect might have.

Managerial part of the interview questions

  • How did you manage a difficult engineer? Now, this is probably the most frequently asked question you will encounter. Please don’t make stuff up, but do prepare and think about a situation you experienced in your career.
  • What was some difficult feedback you had to give recently? and why was it hard to deliver?
  • What was some difficult feedback that you received? and why was it hard to receive?
  • What was the biggest failure you experienced at work and what have you learned from it? This is also a very frequent question and you should think beforehand about what you want to talk about. Don’t be too proud and say you never experienced a failure but also don’t explain an example where you terribly failed beyond what people would expect.
  • When was the last time you had an argument with a coworker and how did you resolve it?
  • How you do coaching and career development, how do you keep up with your knowledge and skills?
  • How do you coach engineers on your team that are smarter and better engineers than you?

Agile interview questions

This part is usually a lot more of a conversation than a set of questions that you need to answer. In my opinion, the best way to find out how much people understand agile is to let them explain what they understand under this term.

What I would definitely want to hear as a minimum is what other terminologies you might know about (Waterfall,..), what other agile sub methodologies you know and practice, which one would you use for what occasion and why. When you cannot use the agile approach, and why not.

What are the day to day activities of an Engineering manager 

It depends on the seniority of your position and how many people you directly line manage, but most engineering managers are expected to contribute code on a frequent basis. This works well in some cases and it doesn’t work at all in some other cases. 

For example, if you have 4 or more meetings on average a day, and trust it happens easily, you simply will not have enough time to be productive along with all other activities you have to perform.

You will have to perform regular 1 to 1s with your direct reports. This is a core part of your work and you have to get used to this as there really is no way around it. 

You will also have to attend different meetings where you will help define engineering processes, contribute to the longer-term strategy and discuss different technical decisions.

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