Technical Leadership… What comes to your mind when you hear these two words….?
Understanding the meaning of these two words is not complicated. As the name suggests, the technical leadership role is the combination of two main responsibilities…technical responsibility and leadership activity.
You might have pictured a person in your brain who has the technical experience and good communication skills for the leadership role. That’s true somewhere but the responsibility of a technical leader is hard to define. It is a tough transition for any developer.
As a developer most of the time you spend in designing and writing code but as a technical leader, it’s not limited to only these two responsibilities. You’re also responsible for the entire development team and you no longer work on your problem. You will have to deal with both technical and non-technical people and you will be juggling with more tasks.
In this blog, we will discuss this topic in detail, and we will uncover some most essential tips to become an effective tech leader.
What is Technical Leadership?
A technical leader is someone who has the technical experience and strong communication skills to mentor the entire development team. He/she will be responsible for the technical direction of the project or product, and it will also be the go-to person for other stakeholders like your business, like your project management, etc. If you’re a technical leader then your team members need to have the feeling that you’re on their side. Let’s discuss some main responsibilities of a technical lead.
1. Technical Guidance
A technical leader takes responsibility for certain leadership activities like guiding the technical vision. For example which technology we need to use in a specific project? How do we need to deliver and deploy the project? Which pattern needs to be used in which project etc?
A technical leader needs to be aware of the product requirements, design of the system, and different technologies fit into the requirement of a different project. Before you take a technical decision for your project ask questions to yourself…why do I need to choose a specific technology? why a specific design is preferred etc?
You should also know different parts of the system, who is working on which part of the system, and the role of these parts in the system.
2. Analyze Risks and Requirements
Before choosing a specific technology, language, framework, or approach in programming, you need to know the requirement of your application. Also analyze and mitigate the risk before you implement some new technology, language, or framework in your existing application. What will be the impact on your application if you take the risk of introducing a new technology in your system?
3. Educating Less Experienced People
In a team, a lot of developers get involved while building a project. Some are senior developers, some are junior developers, with different levels of skills. So most likely you will have a mixed experience of people in your team.
There is also a very important coaching role for technical leads. To make the project cost-effective they need to mix and match the skills and experience by training less experienced developers in the team.
4. Bridging the Communication Gap
Business stakeholders can not understand the technical jargon or some technical things of the project used in an application. Most of the conversations between the technical and non-technical people become very confusing. The business person feels confused and the developers feel like they were not understood.
Being a technical leader it’s your responsibility to find a way and communicate effectively. You need to co-ordinate with the stakeholder using a different language to make them understand.
You will be working closely with them, you will be detecting the requirements from them and you will be mapping those requirements continuously with the ongoing implementation. Effective communication is important to understand the business needs because later you will have to match the needs with the technical vision of the project.
Importance of Technical Lead
We have discussed the main responsibilities of a technical lead. Now you might be thinking that it’s not necessary to have a technical lead in a team. Developers can manage the work on their own but, can you just imagine the functioning of a team without a technical lead? How the decisions will be taken or who will prioritize the things for some important work? How members of the team will share the opinion on something with each other and how they will come to an agreed solution?
If we leave all the above things on developers than a conflict may arise between them and it won’t take much time to upset the delicate balance of the team. So it’s important to have a technical lead in a team to manage all the above things and to deal with these kinds of problems.
Being a developer sooner or later you will be occupied with the tech lead role so it’s important to prepare yourself and give your best in this role. We are going to share some tips to become a successful tech leader in your organization.
Tips to Become a Successful Tech Lead
1. Creating an Atmosphere of Positive Evolution
If you have worked with some large corporation ever than you might have seen some conflict or stupid stuff in the organization. Being a technical leader it’s your responsibility to advocate for change. No matter how negative the environment is, you need to learn and create a positive environment. If you observe a process is slow or things are going in the wrong direction then try to make it better.
Create a mindset to improve situations continuously. Understand and experience the same pain everyone else is experiencing in your team. But the question is how to create more efficiency and happiness in the team? How can we advocate for change?
The best thing you can do is follow the OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) loops which is a four-step approach to decision-making. Consider a scenario that in your project sometimes a test is getting failed and sometimes it’s working. Now the OODA loop works as below.
- Observe: In this phase, you need to observe everything that is happening in the project. Why a test is getting failed sometimes and working for sometimes.
- Orient: In this phase use your experience or the experience of your teammates to look at that particular problem. Why are these tests sometimes failing? It may be a race condition or things like that.
- Decide: Once you identified the cause of the problem, you need to decide how you’re going to solve the problem. Maybe you need to appoint someone to look at the problem or you need to research on your own.
- Act: Once you have made the decision, you need to act upon it.
The best thing about the OODA loop is that it’s a reentrant loop. If you take certain actions, it may lead to a new observation. So maybe the test that was failing in the past doesn’t fail anymore but all the other tests are failing. Now in this case you need to take a different decision.
2. Celebrate Success and Learn to Deal With Failures
Failure: Being a technical leader you need to understand that things won’t work in a way as you expect always. Software developers often see failure while building an application. Your team and you will see a lot of failures. Sometimes a feature won’t work, sometimes deployment of the app will create an issue. Builds will fail, your application may crash on live or the schedule will be missed.
You need to prepare yourself to cope with all the above failures or major problems. Stay calm and don’t worry too much about the failure. If you see something is wrong or a mistake is made by a team member then instead of blaming the person, inform the person politely and ask what they think about the problem. You are a tech lead so you need to take the ownership to fix the problem.
Your team member’s problem is also your problem. Contribute your time and use your energy to fix the problem at hand. Learn from the failures, resolve the issue and you will be appreciated for being a good team player.
Success: Celebrate the success along with your team members when your team has a sense of achievement. Appreciate your team members, encourage them, motivate them, and they will be happy to work with you. If someone in your team comes up with a new idea or some approach to solve a specific problem and if the solution or the idea works then the person should be credited and rewarded. This will create harmony, cooperation, and creativity in your team.
3. Become Technically Proficient
Of course, you need to be technically proficient if your job role has included the word “tech”. A lot of newly tech leaders struggle to find the right balance between their coding and non-coding responsibilities. Either they code for full time or they stop doing coding at all. As a technical leader, it’s essential for you to spend some time in the code base and not to neglect the technical activities.
Gain experience with a variety of tech stack and ecosystem. Understand the pros and cons of each one of them. If you stop spending time with coding than sooner you will stop getting the code logics and this will create many problems.
If you stop doing coding than you won’t understand the real implication, implementation, or maintenance of your project. You may face difficulty in resolving some technical issues and you may take some wrong decision which can increase the complexity of your software system. This will leads to destroying trust with developers.
- Your involvement in coding, code reviews, or any other technical stuff depends on the level of the team’s technical knowledge. Your responsibility for writing code, doing proof of concepts, the number of changes, guidance for the technical stuff everything depends on the maturity of the team.
- You also need to think about the technical vision of the application. It should be aligned with the customer needs and it needs to be shared with the team members. You need to guide them to fulfill that vision.
- Keep your eyes on continuously implemented or updated code in the codebase. Stay up to date with it, maintain awareness of the system and its technical constraints.
4. Always Be Available as a Mentor
The job role name “tech lead” suggests that you need to play the role of the mentor and you need to be always available for your team. Take ownership, support your team members, answer the queries, guide them, and make decisions.
A good tech lead possesses three most important qualities… When to give input? When and how to make a decision and when to give the ownership to your team members depending on the skills or capabilities.
Review the code and explain everything clearly to your team members. Why a certain approach is good and why you’re doing something in a particular manner? You need to put your efforts into certain tasks such as…
- Preparing a complete technical design for your team and ensuring that what needs to be implemented and how it can be implemented. Also, take care of quality attributes such as networking, security, etc.
- Become a mediator and be open to the discussion. You and your team have the same goal so it’s important to take the opinion of everyone and embrace it. Discuss the problems with the team members and get input from them to reach an agreed common solution.
- To achieve the larger goal of the organization you need to match the individual goal of the developers. This goal can be dynamic because it can change. Communicate with the developers openly, guide them, and take ownership.
5. Be a Gate Opener, Not a Gatekeeper
If you are a tech lead than we want to ask a few questions before we go ahead…
- Do you think that it’s important for you to review every change to the codebase?
- Do you think that it’s important for you to have the final say on all decisions and be involved in every technical discussion?
- Do you think that it’s important for you to get involved in the creation, assignment, and completion of every work item?
- Do you think that the tech lead can be the only person to access essential services?
- Do you think that the tech lead can be the only person who can maintain or change certain areas of the codebase or debug certain parts of the system?
If your answer for all the above questions is yes then you’re doing a mistake and you’re slowing down the overall productivity of the team. This problem arises when tech lead feels that only they can take decisions on everything. You need to act like a leader instead of doing this mistake and acting as a parent.
Your involvement in taking critical or tough decisions is indeed but you shouldn’t try to own all of the responsibilities. You don’t need to get involved in every small decision. Transfer the ownership to other developers, guide them, and empower them to make some decisions on their own. Also, you should understand and respect their decision when they share it with you. If you see something is wrong then let them know politely why a specific thing is wrong and what’s the alternative decision or solution for that.
6. Learn To Delegate Well
This is one of the biggest challenges for new tech leaders. Being a technical leader you have many responsibilities, so it’s not possible to focus on every single task. You need to find a way to delegate some activity and still be involved. This way you will be able to focus on more important tasks.
Delegating the task is important for the smooth functioning of a team and project. You will be overwhelmed with so many tasks if you fail to delegate the things among developers. This will lead to slowing down the whole process. Below are some effective tips to delegate the task among developers…
- Delegate the task a little bit more than the usual responsibility.
- Ask for the volunteers. Allow your team members to nominate themselves and take responsibility for a certain task. This way you will be protecting yourself with biased action and your team members will enjoy their responsibility. They will stretch themselves and they will be happy to take more challenges.
- Make sure that none of the team members work on certain tasks all the time. Otherwise, if the person will take leave for a long time than the task won’t be completed and you will be facing many more issues.
7. Zoom Out
Being a technical leader it’s your responsibility to zoom out everything. You should have the awareness that how your work connects to the larger system. Visualize the entire architecture and find out how everyone’s work can be fit into the larger picture.
Remember that if your team members are like sailors on a boat and they are focused on hauling rope, managing the sails, or maintaining the vessel then the tech lead is supposed to spend time in the crow’s nest observing the potential hazards on the horizon.
He/she needs to take care of the ship and ensure that the ship floats well in the water and maintain a good balance in the context of the islands and other boats around it.
Represent the broader view of your application to your team members. Represent the different views of architecture such as logical, deployment, etc. According to that identify how individuals tasks can be fit into this architecture. Meeting with the developers or a whiteboard session will help review the overall picture. Also do not neglect the quality attributes such as scalability, performance, usability concerns, etc.
It’s very challenging for a tech leader to manage all the responsibilities effectively. They need to continuously work on their skills and capabilities. Becoming a tech leader is about having a deep understanding of technology and design. They need to deal with the double complexity. The complexity of the application and complexity of groups of people working together. Dealing with both the things is challenging but if you believe in yourself and your capabilities than you’ll succeed.