Many individuals begin their careers as software developers or software engineers and enjoy being focused on technical skills as sole contributors. As you continue your career as a software engineer, you may start being exposed to working with project managers to complete particular projects. This exposure to the more strategic, business side of engineering may interest some people to move into project management and away from the hands-on responsibilities of a developer role.
To make the transition from a software engineer to a project manager as seamless as possible, this article will cover what a software engineer does, what a project manager does, and some functional tips and best practices on how to move from a software engineer role to a project manager role.
- What does a software engineer do?
- What does a project manager do?
- 10 tips to move from a software engineer role to a project manager role
What does a software engineer do?
Software engineers are typically responsible for designing and creating applications and computer systems, while engaging in problem solving to remedy real-world problems. Software engineers, who are sometimes called software developers, create software for computers and applications. Some of their responsibilities include, but are not limited to:
- Participating in executing full software development life cycle (SDLC)
- Developing flowcharts, layouts, and documentation to identify requirements and solutions
- Writing code that is well designed and functional
- Developing software verification plans and quality assurance procedures
- Producing specifications and determining operational feasibility
- Deploying programs and evaluating user feedback
- Ensuring software is updated with latest features
- Integrating software components into a software system
- Documenting and maintaining software functionality
- Troubleshooting, debugging, and upgrading systems
- Complying with project plans and industry standards
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What does a project manager do?
Project managers are responsible for the planning, procurement, execution, and monitoring of a project. A project manager is typically in charge of overseeing the entire project and handling the coordination of everything involved, as well as defining the project scope, budget, timeline, and resources assigned to the project, and managing the project team. Some of a project manager’s responsibilities would generally include:
- Creating the timeline, scope, and budget; selecting a team; and deciding on a process
- Conducting a feasibility study and associated research
- Managing the project, including consistently communicating with the team
- Setting objectives and key results (OKRs) for the project
- Selecting and using project management tools to create a visual plan
- Identifying and managing any risks to the project as well as creating a mitigation plan
- Troubleshooting any issues
- Regularly reporting to the client and to management
- Concluding the project and engaging in monitoring the success of it
10 tips to successfully move from a software engineer role to a project manager role
- Learn how to maintain open communication
- Find a mentor
- Look at the big picture
- Use project management tools
- Perfect your engineering management skills
- Be prepared to take on more responsibilities
- Find a way to avoid burnout
- Cultivate a growth mindset
- Know how to run productive meetings
- Have patience
1Learn how to maintain open communication
Focus on developing and strengthening your communication to be an effective project manager. Ensure that you establish strong communications with all stakeholders and shareholders from the get-go, as well as with each team member who is involved in the project. To promote open communication, during the project planning phase, ensure that you decide how you will communicate with whom, how often, and which processes you will put in place. Communicating openly about the progression of each project is essential, especially for internal stakeholders and your team. This can be done quite effectively through recurring team meetings and demos.
2Find a mentor
Think about finding a mentor who has made the transition from a software developer or software engineer to a project manager. You can use effective templates to support software developers in beginning their journey with mentorship meetings and to promote career conversations focused on development.
In episode 46 of our Supermangers podcast, David Hoang, Product Design Director at Webflow, gives some great advice about the importance of finding a mentor:
“Seek out mentors. I think for me, it’s seeking out people who are doing it—that’s probably the best resource. So if you have a clear intention, and you value people’s time, they’re likely going to respond or are connected to others. So that’d be kind of my recommendation is, one, really mapping out the outcomes and what you want to achieve in your career versus like the exact steps to it.”
Check out this free one-on-one engineering mentor session template:
3Look at the big picture
Try looking at the bigger picture of a project if you want to move into project management. Entrepreneur and programmer Amy J. Andrews shares,
“This is the time you see things in a whole picture. For detailed tasks, you should know how to delegate them to someone. If you care about almost everything, you don’t have time to achieve the big goals.”
Because software developers are more used to looking at single tasks that are highly detailed, it can be a bit of a challenge to take a bird’s-eye view of an entire project. During your transition from software engineer to project manager, begin to ask more strategic questions and interact with your colleagues from other streams of the business.
4Use project management tools
It’s always effective to use a project management tool that can keep you on track to achieve your project goals on time. With Fellow, you can assign action items during project planning meetings so everyone knows what they’re responsible for in the project. You can also assign and track objectives and key results (OKRs) with Fellow; this way, you’re always on top of what progress has been made because it’s documented in one easy-to-use tool and you can revisit important project tasks every time you meet with your team. Using a project management software also drives alignment as each person involved in the project can be kept in the loop regarding the latest developments.
5Perfect your engineering management skills
A project manager is no longer a sole contributor, which means that in this role, you move beyond simply being in charge of technical, hands-on responsibilities. You need to develop your engineering management skills because in this role, you are now responsible for the strategic side of engineering projects. The job is no longer about coding and debugging and is now more about managing people and teams. Developing your engineering management skills means working on your communication and leadership abilities and learning more about business strategies.
6Be prepared to take on more responsibilities
If you want to move from being a software developer to being a project manager, you need to be ready to take on more ownership. It’s good preparation to take on a heavier workload because as a project manager you’ll be leading a team until project completion. Identify the most important areas to deeply understand as a project manager and have a more general knowledge of areas of the business that don’t need significant attention. Make sure that you’re asking the right questions and prioritizing effectively.
7Find a way to avoid burnout
Like in any job, some developers may experience burnout after long working weeks of coding or programming, which can be strenuous on the brain. People may also experience meeting burnout because they feel like it’s up to them to use their skills on various projects that are ongoing with the team. Sometimes, this perceived pressure will only wear a developer’s skills out and make them feel like they’re spread too thin. As a project manager, you’ll be taking on more tasks, so you’ll need to be that much more careful not to run into burnout. To fight it, find what makes you passionate about engineering, take some time off, and always prioritize your well-being.
8Cultivate a growth mindset
Adopting a growth mindset for learning and development ensures that you can make the most of your existing skills and continue to improve on your areas of weakness. Having a growth mindset is important when facing ever-changing professional demands, and especially for times of change as you begin to transition from software development to project management. Characteristics of having a growth mindset include believing that skills can be developed, being learning focused, putting in the effort required to accomplish goals, persevering through challenges, welcoming feedback, and treating every mistake as an opportunity to evolve into a better project manager.
9Know how to run productive meetings
As a project manager, it’s essential that you learn how to run effective meetings. In this position, you’re likely to have several people reporting to you. Make sure that you make a point of running one-on-one meetings with each of your direct reports. This will ensure that you can stay on top of each team member’s progress and adjust the trajectory of the project accordingly. You can do this effectively with Fellow, a tool that makes it easier for project managers and their direct reports to collaborate on upcoming tasks, exchange feedback, and have engaging conversations.
To move into a project management position, you need to have patience. Everyone’s transition into a new position takes time, and you can’t expect yourself to fall perfectly into the role in a few days. It takes time to get comfortable with your new role and figure out what works for you. People learn and grow at different paces, so give yourself some grace and know that you will become a talented project manager in due time.
While it can be challenging to figure out how to move from a software engineer role to a project manager role within a given company, know that it’s completely possible if doing so interests you. Try these 10 tips to support you through this career development journey as you make the shift from a technical to a more strategic position.