Software developers are often asked to take on the role of technical lead in their organization. But what exactly is a technical lead (or tech lead), and how to become one?
In this article, we will see in-depth what a technical lead is (aka tech lead) and what are the responsibilities that they have.
What is a technical lead?
Software development teams are complex. They consist of a diverse pool of talent with different skills, experience levels, and interests. These teams have many moving parts that require strong leadership to function efficiently.
The role of the technical lead is to be the glue between all these various components so the team can work in unison towards a common goal: delivering high-quality software for clients’ needs.
Technical leads should identify what is needed from each member on their team for them to succeed (e.g., training or mentorship) and support those needs through communication, coaching, and prioritization strategies. This will help create an environment where everyone feels valued and appreciated for their contributions because they know how important they are to the team’s success.
Technical leads are a necessary component of any software development team. They are the ones that make sure engineers have what they need to complete their tasks successfully and help them get through obstacles when things go wrong.
Before being promoted to a technical lead in their company, software developers must have worked for several years and demonstrated that they can deliver quality work.
To be an effective technical leader, software engineers should exhibit high levels of professionalism and enthusiasm; they also need to be able to maintain composure, communicate clearly with co-workers, multitask effectively and demonstrate accuracy and attention to detail.
What are the responsibilities of a Technical Lead?
Software development is both an art and a science, so technical leads should lead through both inspiration (art) and practical decision making (science).
A tech lead’s most important responsibility is to be a subject matter expert for all the technologies used by the team. Since they are in charge of coordinating the work of their engineers, tech leads should be able to write clear and informative technical specifications that allow each team member to understand the business goals, tech stack requirements and build deadlines.
Technical leaders are also responsible for ensuring that engineers understand their company’s software development processes to follow them appropriately.
Here is a list of some other duties tech leads may have:
- Manage a software development team (at least six engineers)
- Manage the tech stack of their company/team
- Make tech decisions, including purchasing tech equipment or making upgrades to tech infrastructure
- Write technical specifications and use cases for each feature
- Set tech budgets, resource needs and deadlines
- Identify trends in tech usage across the company
- Coach tech team members
- Mentor tech engineers
- Coordinate tech hiring decisions and review tech candidates’ résumés
- Provide tech training to tech employees, including writing or updating tech documentation.
- As a technical lead, you are responsible for your team’s success. One of the tenets is your ability to set and create goals to quantify that success.
- Leading their team through technical challenges
- Delegate work amongst team members, assigning them tasks in a logical order
What are the core skills of a Technical Lead?
Being an effective tech lead requires a broad set of technical skills and business acumen. Here are some of the core skills tech leads should have:
Details oriented: tech leaders must be able to pay attention to details, know how they impact their team and find solutions by asking questions.
Enthusiasm: tech leads should be energetic so that they can motivate and inspire their tech team members
Decision making: tech leads have to be able to make decisions consistently because this role is a decision-making position. Tech leads must also foster the willingness to share information with tech staff, take advice from tech team members and learn more about tech’s inner workings
Impactful communication: tech leaders should be able to convey tech information in a concise and meaningful way. They should also be able to make tech decisions, relay tech changes and tech information clearly.
Multitasking: tech leaders must get things done. With limited time, tech leads cannot micromanage tasks, so they need to delegate work and schedule check-ins for project status updates and tech roadblocks.
Organization: tech leads should be organized when it comes to tech workloads. Tech leaders should understand tech processes, tech stack requirements, and tech project plans to organize their team effectively.
Reliability: since a team does technical work, tech leads need to ensure that everyone shows up on time and can work on tech projects.
Problem Solving: Tech Leads should be able to solve tech problems in a fast, accurate, timely fashion. Because of that, tech leads need to know how to troubleshoot problems with software development tools and tech.
Staff Management: tech leads need to manage tech staff in a way that they can encourage tech employees, conduct tech reviews and tech assessments, coach tech team members and guide tech career paths
Technical Skills: A tech lead should be technical enough to understand the inner workings of their team so they can provide effective leadership that drives tech projects forward.
Coaching and Mentoring: Tech leads should be tech experts, but they also need to help tech leaders become tech experts.
What is the difference between a technical lead and an engineering manager?
A technical lead is a person who helps their team with the non-creative aspects of their job. This may include coordinating schedules and projects, as well as troubleshooting any problems that arise.
In comparison, an engineering manager has more management responsibility with less hands-on work. They focus on promoting business growth, enforcing team deadlines, and even mentoring tech leads.
To be an effective engineering manager, you need excellent people management skills and assess your team’s long-term goals. However, as a technical lead, you are more likely to work hands-on with day-to-day tasks.
The tech lead title is a somewhat ambiguous term. Many tech companies use tech leaders or tech managers to describe technical leads who aren’t responsible for managing more than six engineers.
If you are a technical lead, do your research and speak with tech managers in tech companies. Learn the difference between tech leads and tech managers before deciding on a career path that’s right for you.
What is the difference between a technical lead and a lead developer?
A technical leader position is different from a lead developer. Most of the time, a lead developer can be promoted to a tech lead.
A tech lead directs tech work and facilitates tech decision-making. A tech lead manages tech projects, is tech knowledgeable, and has tech authority to make decisions about the tech direction of their team.
In comparison, lead developers have more software development-oriented responsibilities. Their job is to be proficient with software development tools and to produce high-quality code.
A team can have a tech lead and a lead developer on the same tech team in many situations.
How to be an excellent technical lead?
Be tech knowledgeable
The tech lead should know the tech stack, tech processes, tech project plans and tech team requirements. They should also be able to make tech decisions, relay tech changes and tech information clearly.
Maintain a calm demeanor when things go wrong
Tech leads need to take projects from start to finish with limited resources. Understand tech timelines and tech project planning, so tech projects stay on schedule.
Be tech directive, not tech dictating
Leading tech projects is a leadership role. Tech leads need to know what tech team members should be doing on their tech projects.
Keep the tech team focused on goals
When a technical lead is working with a tech team, they must determine what needs to be done to reach their common goals. They should work with the tech team to prioritize tech projects and tech tasks.
Document tech processes and tech history
When you write tech policies, tech procedures and tech project plans, you are documenting tech for future generations of technical leads. You can use your documents as a roadmap to guide the next generation of tech leaders.
Be organized and detail-oriented
It’s vital to keep tech teams on track with tech project plans and tech requirements. You should set tech deadlines, monitor tech progress, and be a tech leader who inspires the next tech lead generation.
Coach and mentor other software developers
Being tech knowledgeable is a tech requirement, but tech leaders must also teach tech.
A tech lead uses their tech knowledge to mentor other software developers and shows them how they can become tech leads themselves.
The technical lead is the person who manages a team of engineers and provides guidance for their work. The job description often includes “managing” tasks, such as ensuring that deadlines are met on time and managing critical relationships with clients or other teams.
In order to become an effective tech leader, you need to be able to make decisions quickly in high-stress situations and solve problems creatively when there isn’t one right answer (because it’s not always clear what the best solution is).
You also have to know how your team works together and why they’re working together to create a harmonious workplace where people want to stay long term.
If you think this sounds interesting, then a tech lead position might suit you.