Purdue University Graduate School
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posted on 2020-12-15, 01:11 authored by Swetha NittalaSwetha Nittala

Developing engineering talent in organizations has long been an issue for industries. Notably, with rapidly changing business models and flattened organizational structures, engineers are required to transition into managerial and leadership roles more quickly than ever before. Yet engineers and employers alike often characterize this as a difficult transition. Further, there remains a lack of empirical research on the nature of engineering managerial work practices. To address these issues, this dissertation aims to holistically uncover the experiences of recently transitioned engineering managers. Specifically, the study investigates the meaning-making and experiences of the participants’ transitional journeys and also addresses related questions such as what changes and challenges they face during the transition and how they navigate the challenges associated with the transition. The study is examined through the lens of work-role transition frameworks and models that emphasize the role of the individual in the transition.

In order to address the research objectives, an interpretive qualitative study is employed. To explore and understand the lived experiences of recently transitioned engineering managers, I conducted semi-structured interviews with 16 newly transitioned engineering managers at a Telecom firm in the United States. The interviews were then used to develop narrative accounts of participants describing their journeys of transition. The interviews were also analyzed thematically to identify: a) specific patterns in how the participants experience and make sense of their transition to engineering managerial roles; b) changes experienced by engineers during the transition; c) challenges faced by engineers as they transition to managerial roles, and d) new skills developed by participants to navigate the transition.

The findings suggest that most engineers struggled with the transition, especially during the early stages. This difficulty in part stems from the various personal changes that they experience as a result of the transition, changes related to their individual cognitive, physiological, and social aspects. Moreover, the transition experiences are also impacted by both the situational factors of the individual (e.g., demographics, career progression) as well as the organizational factors, including HR policies related to training and development, dual pathway offerings, etc. The findings in this study, in part presented as narratives, are expected to contribute to the field of engineering education and practice by providing insights into the experiences of engineering professionals taking up managerial and leadership roles. More specifically, the narratives are expected to serve as examples and provide inspiration for engineers at a variety of career stages. The thematic findings are also expected to help students, engineering educators, engineering leadership faculty, and industry affiliates understand and improve the managerial transition process and associated role expectations, which for the most part, remain largely unexplored.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Engineering Education

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Dr. Brent K. Jesiek

Additional Committee Member 2

Dr. Mary Pilotte

Additional Committee Member 3

Dr. Nathalie Duval-Couetil

Additional Committee Member 4

Dr. Russell Korte