What is a Tech Leader and why you should have one in your team?
What is a Technical leader? How does it differ from a Senior Engineer or a Product manager role? Should your team need one? Let’s find out!
People keep arguing about whether or not managers need technical skills. This fight won’t be settled today. But maybe we can shed some light on why this discussion isn’t going away: the job of “tech lead,” which is short for “technical leader.”
The ideal technical leader appears to be an employee with the middle name “collaboration,” whose communication abilities equal those of senior management while feeling at ease co-leading projects with a team lead or engineering manager.
It may appear difficult to bridge the gap between technical and management talents. Fortunately, when the tech lead’s tasks and responsibilities are clearly defined, success in the job is not difficult to achieve.
Understanding the role of a Technical leader
A Technical Leader is a software engineer who is in charge of leading a team and making sure that its technical direction is in line with its goals. Setting up a technical vision, settling technical disagreements, and keeping an eye on the technical quality of the team’s work are all parts of giving good technical direction. Effective technical leadership makes sure that the team uses the right engineering methods (like continuous delivery or automated testing), invests in ongoing tooling or technical debt improvements, and that the system grows to meet changing needs and environments.
A Tech Lead is “solely responsible for the success of a project,” and they spend 30% of their time writing code and 70% of their time managing a project. This is the most basic way to describe what a Tech Lead does. The name “Leader” is not a misnomer. Your job is to lead a team of skilled engineers through rough seas. You have to direct them, steer them away from risks, clear obstacles, and keep them busy with important work.
A Tech Lead needs to have and improve a lot of skills, but the most important ones are genuine empathy, clear communication, and technical excellence. All of these skills are equally important.
The Tech Lead is a “hybrid” role that has one foot in management and the other in engineering. They act as a link between what the project wants and what needs to be done to make it happen. The Tech Lead is in charge of making sure a project goes well, and it’s up to your company to give them all the help they need.
The following are the responsibilities of the Tech Lead (in no particular order):
- To divide projects into manageable tasks, link those tasks to iterative deliverables, and track those deliverables
- To collaborate closely with a Product Manager to create appropriate timeline expectations and to be forthright when projects veer off course.
- To provide their team with enough uninterrupted work time so that they may regularly reach the flow state, and to protect their team from any potential roadblocks and diversions.
- To do thorough code reviews, first-pass QA, and contribute code wherever possible.
- To be available to team members as they complete their jobs. (While windows of blocked time for heads-down work are expected, so are windows of team availability.)
- To guarantee that your staff is always adequately supplied with work so that no one “spins their wheels”
- To collaborate with other departments on occasion
A good technical leader knows how to break up a project into tasks that make sense and are easy to understand. This lets their team members see the whole project and know when it will be done. It also lets the Tech Lead give each team member a task each week. Breaking a project into small tasks takes time, but it’s crucial so team members can monitor progress. It also lets the Tech Lead make waypoints to unknowns and keep those unknowns in small time windows.
Areas a Technical Leader should excel
As a developer, it’s fun to figure out how to solve a hard technical problem. You look into different ways to solve the problem, look for the easiest way to do it, and celebrate when you get that red, failing test to turn green.
No matter how much experience you may have as a Tech Lead, you can’t take on all the coding tasks. Or all the hard or interesting problems. You have a lot more things that need your time and attention. If you only pay attention to one thing, you won’t be able to do the other things.
When you take on the harder problems, other developers miss out on chances to learn and solve problems. This might let them angry and cause them to leave your team.
There are some problems where your experience and knowledge are important. However, you don’t want to slow down the process of solving problems. You want to find a way to delegate while still being involved.
Possible solutions include starting a design session with developers to talk about general approaches. And checking in with the developer regularly to see if things are on the right track.
As you and the developer get to know each other and build trust, you can do less and delegate more. That way you can focus on more important tasks.
Clearing the road
As a tech lead, you spend a lot of time figuring out where your team is stuck and getting rid of their blockers. To do this well, you need to know how to work with others. You need to work with other parts of the business to get what your team needs to move forward. Product Managers fill the next development cycle’s backlog, Designers build high-fidelity designs, and Operations ensure developers have the proper gear. You’ll work will all of them.
A good tech lead plans ahead. He thinks about possible risks and takes care of them before they slow down the team.
Putting the hands on the code
The title “Technical Leader” exists for a purpose, and it is critical that you devote some time to the codebase. Being active with the code helps you gain respect from the rest of the team. It also helps you stay current on restrictions, difficulties, and the “shape” of the current codebase.
If you don’t spend time with the code, you risk falling victim to the “Ivory Tower Architect” anti-pattern. That means making technical decisions without fully comprehending the repercussions for implementation or maintenance. This anti-pattern has a number of negative consequences. For example, undermining developer trust, extending the development time of new features, and increasing the unintentional complexity of your software systems.
There are several methods for a Tech Lead to find time to code, but it is critical that you make it a priority. This frequently entails making difficult decisions about how to spend your time. I know some Tech Leads who will schedule time on their calendar to guarantee that they always have time during the week to create or review code with the other engineers. Others I’ve met check commit logs and offer input to developers, which is comparable to a loose pair-programming model.
Setting and enforcing realistic metrics
We have put in place measures that we use to monitor our team’s health each week. Similar to how doctors may check a person’s white blood cell count to indicate the presence of infection:
- Task cycling time
- Number of stories accepted
- Daily production deployments on average
- Number of unresolved bugs
- The number of bugs introduced
- Number of points accepted per contribution
- Changes in the delivery date
Managing technical debt
Every development team, no matter how large or small, must cope with technical debt. As you develop software, the technical debt grows in a variety of ways. It can also accumulate through intentional compromise. You opt to do something unsustainable in order to get the product to market faster. And telling yourself that you’ll clean things up afterward.
Other times, technical debt accumulates because constructing technology is difficult. People make mistakes, and you can’t forecast the future, so you end up building the wrong things.
A good Tech Lead handles technical debt in a way that makes sure it doesn’t build-up to the point where the team’s only job is to pay off debt and not improve the product. There is no magic bullet for getting rid of technical debt, but I’ve seen these two things work well:
Measure the technical debt.
If you don’t measure it, you won’t know how big it is or how fast it’s growing. When you walk through the codebase and find technical debt, make a task and call it “technical debt.”
Make technical debt payments continuously.
Many companies follow an 80/20 guideline in general. That is, in a particular iteration, spend 80% of your effort iterating on the product and 20% resolving the debt. Tech leads make certain that some debt-related activities are prioritized in each iteration.
Talking to developers
The number of coding jobs completed by a competent tech lead will not be assessed. Their software team’s effectiveness is measured. Anything a Tech Lead can do to help each member of their team improves the whole team. Sit down with members of your team to learn about their histories, strengths, interests, and ambitions. This will help you understand how the individuals on your team fit together as a group.
Connect developers with possibilities for advancement. Allowing them to take chances allows them to learn and grow while also contributing to the team. Encourage team members to share their knowledge and develop ways to enable each team member to connect with one another.
Talking to upper managers
To be an effective Tech Lead, you must have excellent relationships with those outside of the development team. Such as Product Managers, Marketing, Sales, and CxOs. They will be perplexed by your development jargon. Talking to them about frameworks, technical tools, and platforms will only confuse them.
An effective Tech Lead develops methods for non-technical individuals to grasp technical topics. The easiest way to do so is to identify commercial terminology and describe tasks in those terms. To assist business personnel in understanding technical topics and their ramifications, use visual models, whiteboard sessions, and metaphors. You may test your ability to convey an idea simply on friends or family who do not work in technology.
Bring business terms into the development team and encourage them to be used as much as possible. This will help keep the translation layer as small as possible. The better the developer team understands and empathizes with business stakeholders, the better they will be at using these domain terms.
Last but not least, good tech leads are also good mentors. They want to train and guide the developers on their team. Give them regular feedback on their work, and promote and encourage the best engineering practices. They also work to improve the technical skills of their team. Giving them more difficult problems to solve and pairing up with developers to work on problems together is a must. Great team leaders know that their own success depends on how well their team members do.
The Tech Lead is an essential member of any software development team. They act as a sounding board for their developers. They represent Engineering to other parts of the business and make important technical decisions that can make or break a project. Exceptional technical leaders are required to deliver great software solutions that fulfill the demands of users. I believe that mastering the five techniques listed above will result in more of them.
What a Technical leader shouldn’t do
The Tech Lead’s role is not to micromanage, but to be a service leader. That means they are there to help and serve their team as if they work for them. They may be held accountable for a project’s success. But it is the collective work of their team that brings a project to fruition.
Furthermore, lousy tech leaders take on high-profile activities for themselves and are driven by the ability to grab credit for accomplishing the work. They optimize locally by ensuring that members of the team remain focused on activities that are advantageous to the team, but this comes at the expense of the engineering organization as a whole.
Bad technical leaders reject discussing or clarifying technical direction and instead make judgments. They retain essential institutional information in their heads, neglecting to increase their effectiveness by developing and spreading useful documentation.
When offered feedback, they typically become defensive. Good technical leaders are humble and instill confidence in the rest of the team. Bad tech leaders are arrogant and enjoy making their coworkers feel inferior.
Bad tech leaders cause discussions to drag on for too long without conclusion, reducing team productivity. Others end discourse prematurely, dismissing fresh discussions as “already established.” Bad technical leaders feel that winning the argument is more essential than making the proper decision for the team.
The bad kind of technical leader gets frustrated whenever the specification is updated. Or they rush to generalize their design in places where it is doubtful that any modifications would be made.
Delegate and leave
Being reactive is what bad technical leaders do. They may give tasks to other people, but they don’t check back to make sure progress is being made. Also, they don’t make short-term goals and hope that everything will work out in the end. They wait until right before launch to test complex systems from beginning to end. For them, it’s better to let team members waste time on tasks that are fun but not important.
Bad technical leaders “throw over the wall” product decisions and don’t take ownership of the product. They say no because of technical problems, but they don’t offer any other ideas or explanations.
Take shortcuts and misunderstands what productivity means
Ineffective technical leaders take shortcuts. They may save time in the immediate future but will end up costing more money in the long run. Which would also allow more technical debt to be accumulated. They are unable to differentiate between circumstances that require prompt action and those that require complete execution of a task.
The most ineffective IT leads are those who think they are most productive when they are writing code. They view communication as a disruption to their work. They optimize not for the overall productivity of the team, but rather for what works best for each individual member of the team. These technical leaders become irritable if they are required to take the time to lead.
Technical leader vs Engineering Manager
In tech, there are a lot of jobs with vague names. When putting together a team for your next project, it can be hard to tell the difference between jobs that sound the same. Even if you don’t include obscure ones like “desktop support analyst.”
The primary distinction between an engineering manager and a technical leader is seen in the tasks they prioritize. The responsibility of personally supervising the processes of software development falls on the shoulders of tech leaders.
An engineering manager, however, prioritizes human factors. Because of the significant role that code reviews play in the work, it is essential that they have a solid grasp of programming. Aside from that, it is the responsibility of a tech lead to monitor developing trends in the industry. And ensure that the team makes optimal use of newly released technologies and solutions.
If you aren’t sure who to hire for your next job opening because you don’t know what kind of professional the job duties call for, you might want to look at the list below:
|Engineering manager||Technical leader|
|Employee education and career planning||Craft the project’s technological infrastructure|
|Feedback sessions and individual meetings||Junior developers mentoring|
|Keeping track of the team’s output||Conducting code reviews|
|Establishing a Corporate Culture||Overview technological capability|
|Preventing staff burnout and conveying team concerns to company executives||Remove bottlenecks and clear the road for other developers|
|Recruitment and talent management||Programming (writing code consumes around 30% of a tech lead’s working time)|
|Dispute resolution within the team||Experimenting with new technologies and different development processes.|
Why does your team need a Technical Leader?
- To make work easier. Since the technical leader is in charge of the product launch and its development, they know which tasks need to be done first. The tech lead helps the team figure out which tasks are most important. They also give them to the right people so that they can be done as quickly as possible.
- To train employees and retain them. Adding a tech lead to your team will make it stronger. Companies don’t always know how much their employees can do. Developers who are stuck doing boring work and can’t see how their careers can grow within a company often quit. The tech lead helps the developers find their strengths. Leads and trains them, and makes sure the team is always getting better at their jobs.
- To improve team guidance. The team can waste a lot of time dealing with small problems or going in the wrong direction. Most of the time, it happens because people don’t understand the big picture and don’t do market analysis. A tech lead keeps development from slowing down or wasting time by setting clear goals for a short amount of time. This is called a sprint.
- Saving money and time. All of the above reasons lead to the main benefit of having a tech lead. Which is lowering costs and speeds up production.
- To boost product quality delivery via expert tech guidance. The technical leader is fully responsible for both the development process and the release of the product. They have a vested interest in ensuring that the final product they deliver is of high quality. Having a specialist who can optimize the development process, provide the best directions for tech implementation, and guide the team directly affects the product’s success.
How to find a good Technical Leader
It’s ok if you don’t want to be a Tech Lead. Talendor usually provide a variety of possibilities for engineers to enhance their careers, including Individual Contributor tracks that are equivalent to advanced management jobs. The Tech Lead has greater pressure than the ordinary engineer, and it can be difficult to combine the duties of leading a team and providing code, especially when first taking on the Lead post (this is completely normal, by the way).
Be explicit and realistic
- Make a list of all the talents and technology you really require. Frustrated applicants describe being rejected after multiple stages. The reason: they lacked a talent that was not included on the specs. This is a complete waste of everyone’s time.
- Be realistic about the necessary skills. People with current expertise in numerous technologies do exist. However, if you seek a broad variety of extremely particular technologies/skills, you may never find that person. Consider that two roles may be necessary, and be truthful. If you’re searching for a Thingy specialist and a Wotsit specialist but would like someone who can do both, simply say so. If you absolutely must have only one person to cover all of the talents, expect to deal with fewer candidates. And to wait longer for the appropriate individual.
- Leave out tech that isn’t important. If you aren’t an expert in a certain field of technology, it’s hard to know what is a simple technology. But if you can, ask someone who might know about this. It doesn’t really matter if your ideal candidate has used it before or not if they can learn it in a day or two or by reading the instructions. They won’t mind at all.
- Set a reasonable market rate. Senior candidates will reject advertising with too low rates, apply for those that are about right, and return later to those with “DOE”, “Market Rate”, or similar (if they remember, and have time, etc.). You won’t lose these terrific applicants if you’re realistic and specific. Rates with a wide range might convey the message “we don’t really know what we want and will most likely waste your time.”
Don’t bloat the job specs
- Reduce the number of ‘desirable’ abilities. Some low-quality candidates may believe that if they have some of the essential talents, it won’t matter if they don’t have all of them. When looking for jobs, stronger applicants are pickier. Many may disregard ‘desirable’ talents, but some may be put off if they don’t have them. Remember that the greatest technical workers can quickly learn new abilities. If it isn’t critical, you may leave it out; if it is critical, move it to the needed skills area.
- Undecided technology should be excluded. If you’re looking for a tech lead to help you with your technical strategy in a new area, don’t include “Must have expertise with Hot-Trending-Tech-X” in the job description just because you assumed it was the appropriate way and everyone else was using it. Your ideal applicant may be filtered out without even applying. If the precise technology is unknown, make “Strong technical strategist” a needed talent.
- Have it proofread by someone with technical expertise. Often, job descriptions include contradictory statements. For example: “Must have 3 years experience with Language X” when Language X was introduced last year. Or even “Must know how to drive Technology A using Language B.” Although these two technologies are incompatible, and so on. These mistakes are generated by a mix of a disengaged brain and unchecked pasted text. They are easily detectable with a short technical proofread.
Hiring a Technical Leader from Talendor
Without a trustworthy middleman, it can be hard to figure out how to quickly find the right candidates in a foreign market. At Talendor, we want to be your trusted partner in finding the most experienced technical leaders from around the world.
Talendor has worked with companies and startups from all over the world (Sweden, Denmark, USA, Brazil, etc.) for many years and has released successful products in many IT areas. So, if you need help finding professionals for your project, you should talk to Talendor’s recruiting experts. Click here to know more!
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