Managing On-Call

Managing software engineers, easy right? Overseeing projects, budget analysis, 1-1s, personality conflicts, inter-department politics, acting as scrum master if you’re really unlucky - managers wear so many hats it’s hard to imagine taking on anything else. I’m going to try to convince you that you should also sometimes lose some sleep and have your your workday interrupted. Let’s talk about on-call and why you, as a manager should participate.

Leading by Example

By participating in the on-call rotation, software engineering managers set a powerful example for their team members. It demonstrates that everyone, regardless of their role, is responsible for the systems they build and maintain. When managers show their commitment to supporting the team during critical incidents, it fosters a culture of shared responsibility and accountability.

Gaining Empathy and Understanding

Being on-call provides managers with firsthand experience of the challenges and pressures faced by their team members. It allows them to gain a deeper understanding of the systems, processes, and tools involved in incident response. This empathy and understanding enable managers to make more informed decisions, set realistic expectations, and provide effective support to their team during challenging times. If you can’t do your job while on-call, get enough sleep to function or have healthy work-life balance, how do you expect your team to?

Improving Technical Skills

Participating in the on-call rotation exposes managers to real-world technical problems and encourages them to keep their technical skills up to date. They have the opportunity to troubleshoot and resolve issues, enhancing their problem-solving abilities. Additionally, managers can identify areas where their team may need additional training or support, leading to overall skill improvement within the team. Managers who can’t fix prod shouldn’t be making technical decisions, yet it’s very common for managers who can’t even get a working local dev environment up and running to make major architectural calls.

Strengthening Team Collaboration:

During on-call shifts, managers work side by side with their team members, fostering collaboration and building strong relationships. They’ll gain invaluable insight into what’s working, what’s not working and who understands which parts of your systems. This shared experience encourages open communication, knowledge sharing, and a sense of camaraderie among the team. It breaks down the traditional hierarchical barriers and creates a more inclusive and cohesive work environment. High-trust environments can’t be created without being in the trenches.

Building Trust and Respect

Provided you don’t fuck it up too badly, participating in the on-call rotation helps managers earn the trust and respect of their team members. When managers actively contribute to resolving incidents, team members recognize their commitment and dedication. This trust and respect leads to increased morale, motivation and performance.


Software engineering managers play a vital role in the success of their teams. By actively participating in the on-call rotation, managers demonstrate their commitment to shared responsibility, gain valuable insights into their team’s work, and foster a collaborative and supportive work environment. Embracing the on-call rotation not only benefits the team but also helps managers enhance their technical skills, improves decision-making, and build strong relationships with their team members. So, let’s normalize managers in the on-call rotation.