Director of Engineering

What does a Director of Engineering do?

A Director of Engineering is responsible for the excellence of an engineering team, as well as growing and mentoring direct reports, and is considered a senior role within an organization. A Director of Engineering may also still have their own projects, and code or build systems alongside their team, but may also have additional responsibilities. These can include things like leading meetings with senior leadership, or the need to act as a stakeholder for other, large projects within the company.

How is a Director of Engineering different from other senior engineering roles?

A Director of Engineering is more senior than an Engineering Manager, but less senior than a Head of Engineering within a company’s organizational structure. In order to become a Director of Engineering, an engineer may need at least 7-10 years of experience in their field, with progressive responsibilities and past leadership experience.

A Director of Engineering may also differ from other senior engineering roles, like Senior Staff Engineers or Principal Engineers, because these roles are often individual contributor roles while a Director of Engineering is often responsible for direct reports.

What is a typical background of a Director of Engineering?

In addition to years of experience, Directors of Engineering may also have an advanced degree like a Master’s/PhD in a technical field or in business administration. They may also come from a background where they have experience with:
  • Hiring and managing diverse teams: Directors of Engineering will need a keen eye for hiring engineers that fit their organization’s needs and culture. For example, candidates who thrive at a small startup may not enjoy the nuances of working at a larger corporation (or vice-versa), and may not be the right fit for a particular company because of their interests and strengths. Through a strong interview and technical assessment process, successful Directors of Engineering should be able to determine who will be great fits at the roles they have available (and who would be a great fit in a role at another company).
  • Strong people management: A Director of Engineering should have past experience managing people, either as a director or manager at another company, and should feel comfortable with having direct reports.
  • Technical acumen: This depends on the size of the company, but a Director of Engineering should be familiar with many technical programs or languages, and should demonstrate expert level knowledge in at least some of them. In order to understand what their team is working on and how to measure their impact, a thorough understanding of what more junior engineers do is crucial.
  • How to work through constraints and problems: Every engineer knows bottlenecks are inevitable. From code that breaks, to potential security issues, to unsuccessful attempts at building a Product Designer’s vision, challenges are inevitable.

    But an Engineering Director should be able to help their team work through these challenges, whether it’s by providing more resources, helping rearrange priorities, meeting with senior leaders to identify roadblocks from other areas of the organization, or finding any other solutions to unblock their teams.

What are some of the responsibilities of a Director of Engineering, once they start a role?

  • Hiring and growing a team: As mentioned above, Directors of Engineering will often need to be responsible for hiring and scaling their team. Having hiring systems and plans in place can help greatly with this.
  • Developing processes for their team: Once onboarded, a Director of Engineering will often need to develop processes for their team. How is code reviewed? What’s the process for pushing updates live? Who is responsible for system malfunctions, and who can be on call if/when problems arise? These are just some of the questions individuals in this role will need to help their teams answer.
  • Developing lifecycle and product roadmaps: Engineering Directors should have experience with creating high level strategies, like roadmaps that detail engineering milestones, or new engineering features their team plans to unlock over the next year.
  • Reporting to leadership on team and project performance: An Engineering Director should be confident in their skills to present and report to senior leaders on their team’s performance. Did the team reach their goals this quarter? Has the company encountered fewer technical issues with their products? What is the success of a new feature (revenue, engagement, etc.) - and how did the engineering team’s efforts impact this? Directors of Engineering should have a clear understanding of their team’s work, and how this work aligns with the larger goals of their company.