Vice President (VP) of Engineering
8 min read
What are the responsibilities of a VP of Engineering?
Typically, a VP of Engineering plans and coordinates the joint effort of various engineering teams and makes sure the output is at a level expected by the CEO or the Board. Breaking it down, they are tasked with the following:
- Planning and designing new products and services,
- Ensuring the team is not understaffed or overworked
- Organizing necessary training and education for the engineers
- Obtaining necessary equipment, gear, software and raw materials
- Managing budgeting
- Leading research and development with the goal of bringing new products and services to the market
- Coordinating production
- Making sure the engineers are maintaining the desired level of quality and standards
- Coordinating the work of engineers with other departments within the organization, including finance, marketing, production, and others
- Testing products and services
- Reporting to the CEO
What skills does a VP of Engineering need to have?
Organizational skills are important. The VP of Engineering will be in charge of a team of engineers and will often need to ensure that multiple products or services reach the market on time, at a desired level of quality. Maintaining a team, making sure they’re skilled, well-equipped and not pressed for time requires a great deal of organizing and careful planning. Similarly, leading research and development, coordinating production, testing the products and services and reporting to the CEO require highly developed organizational skills.
Being skilled in analytics is also a must. Many modern organizations rely heavily on big data and extrapolating actionable insights from seas of information. A VP of Engineering must be able to read incoming information and use it to spot trends and come up with new products and services. The data can also be used to improve on existing products and services, as well as to work on improving user experience and customer satisfaction.
Communication skills are also a necessity, especially in larger organizations with bigger teams of engineers and software developers. A VP of Engineering will be tasked with overseeing numerous employees all working on different aspects of a product and/or service. As such, being able to clearly and concisely communicate the organization’s goals and targets is essential for success.
What education does a VP of Engineering need to have?
For VPs of engineering, a bachelor’s degree in engineering, or a bachelor of science degree in engineering is the usual place to start. In many cases, however, a master’s degree in engineering management, or technology management will suffice. Depending on the company, it may be useful for the VP of Engineering to have an MBA, especially if the role is more focused on management.
Many VPs continue to improve their education and development after taking on the role, and may take up part-time study on topics such as human resources management, financial management, accounting and engineering economics, quality control, health and safety, computer sciences and software development.
What is the career path of a VP of Engineering?
A person will most often advance to the position of VP of Engineering from the position of engineer, software developer or architect. Given the scope and responsibilities of the position, extensive experience working on difficult, demanding projects is a huge benefit, particularly if the employee has had to solve advanced problems and make big calls. In some cases, an organisation will have a position of engineering team lead as a stepping stone between engineer and VP of Engineering.
If you're thinking about your own path to the VP of Engineering spot, it's probably a good idea to see where you stand at your job today and how you might progress. One easy way to do that is to join your company's public org chart.
Examples of well-known VPs
VPs of Engineering are seldom as popular as CEOs or Presidents, but every now and then some rise to celebrity status due to their success. Here are a few notable mentions:
- Wayne Rosing (born in 1946) is a tech guru who directed engineering at Apple in 1980, and led the team that built Apple Lisa – a predecessor to the Macintosh. As Google’s first Senior VP of Engineering (from 2001 to 2005), Rosing is still considered one of the most influential people in the history of the company. Some say that much of Google’s ethos today holds remnants of his ideas and approach to problem-solving. He’s often credited for why Google is considered the “epicenter of innovation”.
- Jeff Rothschild (born 1954) is an American billionaire and ex-Facebook executive. He has co-founded multiple companies and has an estimated net worth of $3.4 billion, but he is most famous for his time in the role of VP of Infrastructure Engineering at Facebook, from 2005-2015. It’s argued that it was Rothchild that brought technology into Facebook, which wasn’t really a technology company at the time. He holds a master’s degree in computer science.
- Eugene Francis Kranz (born 1933) is an aerospace engineer and a former fighter pilot. He spent a great deal of his career at NASA, where he served as Flight Director and Chief Flight Director. His most notable achievements include directing the Apollo program, including the Apollo 11 Lunar Lander, and his role directing the successful efforts by the Mission Control team to save the crew of Apollo 13. He holds a bachelor of science in aeronautical engineering.
- Kevin Scott (born 1972), is the current CTO of Microsoft. He started his engineering career at Google in 2003, and then went on to work at LinkedIn in 2011 as Senior VP for Engineering. LinkedIn held its initial public offering in May 2011 and Scott was credited with scaling the company's computer systems to keep up with accelerating demand, earning him the reputation as “the engineer who saved LinkedIn”. He has a masters in computer science, and is currently working on his Ph.D. in the same field.
Salary for a VP of Engineering
According to Indeed.com, in 2019 the median salary for the position of VP of Engineering in the United States was $195,434.
Latest information from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that engineering managers can expect a 6% growth in their employment opportunities within the next decade.
In the UK the median annual salary for the position is significantly lower at £97,963 ($128,270), according to PayScale. The same position in Singapore, on the other hand, is paid a median annual salary of $178,778.
The difference between a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and a VP of Engineering
Because both positions work towards similar goals, and often work together and track the progress of the same team, many people mistakenly believe these two positions are interchangeable.
A CTO is the executive in charge of an organization's technological needs and its research and development. It is their task to be the expert on the technology that’s being used by the company, and to be the creative force behind new products and solutions.
A VP of Engineering has a broader scope of operations, including tracking the team’s progress, managing human and technological resources, organizing targets and milestones as well as general leadership of the engineering and software development team. They establish focus for the engineering team as its leader and make sure that deadlines are met, with their main focus being ensuring execution.
In many organizations these two positions work well together and depending on the hierarchy, one may report to the other. Both are important for a business to scale.