It is a transition that happens for most people climbing their career ladder, you find something you enjoy, you become confident in your knowledge, you work hard towards promotions, then BAM! You’ve done the job so well that you are no longer the “do-er” but the “oversee-er”. The tech industry is a prime example of where this transition can be particularly tricky.
Often the skills necessary to be a great developer do not always translate easily to the role of leader or line manager. When you do get the big promotion, and you’re determined to do well, it is common to fall into common traps which may prevent you from being an effective leader. In this article, we will delve into some of the traps to avoid and simple tips to becoming a successful Tech Lead while still enjoying what you do.
1. Making all of the technical decisions
It is normal to feel like you need to throw yourself into your new role and demonstrate your authority straight away, but it’s essential to take a step back. Even though you may be the most experienced developer on the team, your role is now to lead and encourage your team to make decisions, not dictate everything.
If a Tech Lead insists on making all of the decisions, it can create a bottleneck where the team can’t progress if you’re not available when something urgent comes up. The best decisions come from using your team to your advantage. They likely have different areas of expertise, and sometimes getting them all in a room together to discuss the issue will result in the best approach. It doesn’t mean that you will never get to make decisions; it’s just important to think about how to approach each case individually. You could:
- Delegate the decision - give the final say to someone else on the team that you trust and follow up afterwards to see why they made the decision. This approach will allow you to step in if needed.
- Offer advice - delegate the decision to someone on the team but give your opinion for consideration.
- Consult the team - bring the team together to discuss the issue, allow them to give their opinion and allow for discussion, but ultimately you will make the final decision.
2. Not paying attention to your team
It is easy as a first-time leader to ignore when there is conflict on your team or to not notice when one of your developers is disrespectful to a non-technical colleague. These are things that were not your problem before, but now you need to build a different kind of relationship with your team. They need to trust you, feel like they can come to you with problems and also understand that you are in charge and will challenge them if they are not communicating or performing well. Your role is to point them in the right direction, give regular constructive feedback and ensure that your team are motivated to be successful and work well together.
3. Writing too much code
This is a big one. There is no doubt that you are going to miss writing code. And a common mistake is feeling that to demonstrate great leadership, you must write code all of the time. It is vital as a tech lead that you continue to read, write and review code, but that will take more of a backseat now that you’re responsible for the team’s performance and people management. It’s crucial to balance your time so that you can spend some time on code but still keep up with your primary responsibilities like planning sessions, setting code standards, identifying risks, mentoring, HR tasks and building a technical vision.
Adapting to your new identity as a manager is not helped by the fact that very few employees receive formal managerial training. Learning “on the job” or from mentors is vital for success in any role, but there are soft skills and other management techniques that are often best trained by experts. There are occasions where employees try the Tech Lead role for a year or two and then decide that they prefer just coding and revert to a Senior Developer role where they are happier. It’s important to note that some personalities are more suited to managing people than others, and that is okay.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Aoife Shannon has been working in the technology industry for over 10 years, initially as a front-end developer and more recently in a leadership role. Over the years she’s worked on countless small and large scale web applications with her main focus to ensure accessibility compliance and provide a seamless user experience. Aoife now manages an entire development team, working to deliver high quality applications with the single aim of helping Isobar’s customers transform their business through digital.
Aoife is passionate about anything to do with front-end development, building scalable and easily maintained applications, improving how her team works and collaborates and of course cultivating more interest in young girls to aim for careers in STEM.