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  • Writer's pictureMariane Bekker

Understanding Engineering Leadership Titles


In the world of engineering, leadership titles can often be confusing and inconsistent across companies. Unlike standardized roles, engineering leadership titles vary widely, and their meanings can differ significantly depending on the organization. However, certain patterns and expectations can help shed light on the differences between these roles. Here, we explore the various engineering leadership titles and their associated responsibilities.

Engineering Manager:

An Engineering Manager typically oversees a single team of direct reports. They are responsible for managing the team’s day-to-day operations, ensuring successful project execution, and fostering a collaborative work environment. Engineering Managers usually report to a Senior Engineering Manager or a Director of Engineering. While they have managerial duties, they also contribute to coding, allocating approximately 20–40% of their time to hands-on technical work.

Senior Engineering Manager:

A Senior Engineering Manager takes on a broader leadership role, managing two or more teams of direct reports. They report directly to a Director of Engineering and focus primarily on high-level strategic planning and team management. Coding expectations for Senior Engineering Managers are typically reduced to 0–20% as they devote more time to guiding and mentoring their teams.

Director of Engineering

As the scope of responsibility expands, the Director of Engineering versees multiple engineering managers and teams. They are often positioned within the senior management hierarchy, reporting to the CTO, VP of Engineering, or CEO, particularly in smaller startups. Their primary focus lies in setting and implementing the engineering vision, managing recruitment pipelines and processes, and maintaining efficient team operations. While Directors of Engineering may occasionally conduct code reviews, their involvement in coding tasks is typically limited to 0–10%.

VP of Engineering:

The VP of Engineering is a high-level leadership role responsible for shaping the engineering culture within an organization. They often report directly to the CEO and are part of the executive team, contributing to the company’s overall strategic direction. The VP of Engineering manages engineering managers or directors of engineering and takes charge of critical areas such as budgeting, vendor relations, OKR frameworks, recruitment pipelines, recruitment processes, and career leveling frameworks. Their focus is less on direct technical involvement and more on establishing a strong engineering culture and aligning it with the company’s vision.

CTO (Chief Technology Officer):

The CTO holds the highest-ranking technical position within an organization. They are responsible for overseeing all aspects of technology and innovation. The CTO sets the company’s long-term technical vision, aligning it with the business strategy. They work closely with other executives and stakeholders to identify opportunities for leveraging technology to drive growth and competitive advantage. The CTO leads and manages the technology team, including engineering managers, directors, and other technical personnel. They play a crucial role in driving innovation, making technology decisions, managing budgets, and ensuring the successful execution of technical projects.


It’s important to note that these descriptions are not exhaustive, and titles can still vary between companies. The engineering industry lacks a universal standard for leadership roles, which makes it essential to research and understands the specific expectations associated with each title within a given organization. In conclusion, while engineering leadership titles may not have a universal standard, certain patterns can help us grasp the differences in roles and responsibilities. Understanding these distinctions allows engineers to navigate their career paths effectively and make informed decisions about their desired leadership trajectories within the engineering landscape.


 

Mariane Bekker is a passionate advocate for women in tech, an angel investor, and the founder & CEO of Upward, a premier boutique recruitment agency connecting companies with exceptional diverse tech talent. With over a decade of experience leading diverse engineering teams at VC-Backed startups, she’s navigated the intricacies of the startup landscape and understands the unique needs and aspirations of founders. Follow her LinkedIn and Twitter for insights, industry trends, and valuable resources about Startups, Tech, and Diversity.

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Mariane Bekker is a passionate advocate for women in tech, an angel investor, and the founder & CEO of Upward, a premier boutique recruitment agency connecting companies with exceptional diverse tech talent. With over a decade of experience building diverse engineering teams at leading startups, she’s navigated the intricacies of the startup landscape and understands the unique needs and aspirations of founders. Follow her LinkedIn and Twitter for insights, industry trends, and valuable resources about Startups, Tech, and Diversity.

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