If you're a seasoned software developer with a knack for leadership and a passion for staying updated on the latest tech trends, the role of a technical lead might be calling your name. Ever thought about being the go-to person for all things technical on your software team? Fancy the idea of leading and innovating within your department ?
In this article, we're going to dive deep into what it means to be a tech lead, exploring the responsibilities and requirements to help you decide if it's the perfect fit for your career aspirations. Let's get started!
What is a Tech Lead?
There is a common misconception that a tech lead is a manager. We’ll clear that confusion by pointing out that they are not the same. While a tech leader is a senior team member, they must contribute directly toward creating code repositories while narrowing the gap between management and project delivery at the same time.
A technical leader stays on top of the technical aspects of the software development process, guides team members to address technical matters, and oversees system modifications.
In short, the technical leader’s designation is the first step toward becoming an engineering manager from a software developer.
Difference Between a Tech Lead and an Engineering Manager
It is worth noting that despite sharing a similar goal of ensuring seamless project execution, the responsibilities differ while accomplishing these objectives.
While the tech lead offers technical guidance and mentors specific projects, engineering managers handle multiple projects and teams, make strategic decisions, and manage budgets.
Navigating a Tech Lead’s Responsibilities
A tech leader’s responsibilities vary from organization to organization. While the responsibilities in some companies may overlap those of engineering managers, it is primarily a technical leadership role between strategic decision-making and hands-on coding. It is a collaborative role in which tech leaders work closely with their team members, engineering managers, and cross-functional stakeholders.
While the role isn’t clearly defined, let’s explore some of the most common and essential responsibilities.
- Defining the Technical Course for a Project
A lead works with project or engineering managers right from the start of a project. While engineering managers are at the forefront of client meetings and track the overall progression of a project, tech leaders make estimations, address technical difficulties or issues raised by team members, and provide answers to technical questions.
Additionally, the tech lead has all the relevant information, such as the project's essential features, the programming language used, and project deliverables. They are responsible for reviewing the code, foreseeing risks, making recommendations based on their assessment, and creating technical documentation for the project.
- Organizing and Prioritizing Tasks
As a tech-centric resource, the lead organizes team tasks. This process primarily includes determining the project's scope, listing all the primary and secondary activities, and selecting the programming languages and frameworks.
This information enables leaders to evaluate and identify team members who can be involved in the project. At this stage, they also need to decide whether to break down tasks for the team or allow them to plan their work according to the methodology in use. Simply put, the leader may create an outline of how to approach the project, the protocols to be followed in case of an issue, and ensure that all the operations align with the project’s architecture.
Prioritizing tasks in a single project or across multiple projects is tricky and can impact project success, resource allocation, and team efficiency. Effective prioritization is the stepping stone for successful project management, and tech leaders should have the right skills to ensure optimal project outcomes.
A tech leader is responsible for guiding their team’s collective efforts in tune with the project’s goals. Additionally, the technical leader should ensure every team member can access relevant tools to understand the project's priorities and what is expected from them.
- Technical Guidance for Team Members
You may have a few inexperienced team members who will require your guidance to overcome technical challenges, understand the best practices, and put their best foot forward.
A tech leader also defines the required coding standards and ensures every team member complies, ensuring quality and consistency throughout the project. Further, they can immediately intervene during a problem and direct team members toward the relevant documentation without wasting time. This further ensures your developers write flawless and maintainable code, minimising technological debt and improving the efficiency of the overall process.
- Code Review
Performing thorough and consistent code reviews is one of the key responsibilities of a tech leader. They must ensure that code reviews seamlessly integrate with their organization's software development process, ensuring code quality, adherence to coding standards, and collaboration.
A technical leader must conduct an unbiased code review and ensure that all cases are implemented correctly, identify logic errors in the code, determine whether the code conforms with the current style guide, and ensure all relevant documentation is updated.
A tech leader must also understand that code reviews could take time and set aside two weeks for conducting reviews and providing feedback. Research suggests that reviewing 100-300 lines of code at once or spending around an hour for every code review is an effective way to maintain code quality and provide accurate feedback.
- Providing Regular Status Updates
A technical leader is expected to share regular status updates and status reports with stakeholders to keep them informed and also ensure all team members are in tune with the project’s requirements, progression, and objectives. They also act as the bridge to reduce the communication gap between the non-technical stakeholders and the tech-oriented development team, ensuring frictionless project execution and delivery.
- Mentoring Peers and Junior Team Members
One of the most challenging parts of being a tech leader is providing feedback, especially to those who were once your peers. The key is maintaining a perfect balance between giving constructive criticism and motivating them to overcome hurdles in their development journey. You should aim to help them grow while nurturing their confidence, skills, and zeal to improve and perform optimally. Remember, you are not the manager, so working closely with your manager in such situations is vital.
Mentorship is one of the most valued skills for technical leaders as they play a vital role in shaping and accelerating the growth of junior team members. Team leaders should consistently communicate with their teams to understand their problems and build a supportive work environment. They must also review all open pull requests and address them by answering queries and providing solutions at the earliest to foster collaboration and ensure smooth workflow.
The role of a tech leader is far from ordinary. It's a dynamic blend of technical prowess and mentorship. As we've seen, they guide teams through complex technical challenges, ensure code quality, and bridge the gap between developers and stakeholders. So, whether you're charting your path toward tech leadership or gaining a better understanding of this crucial role, remember that being a tech leader is about more than just code – it's about steering the ship toward innovation and success!
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