Geek Culture
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Responsibilities and Traits of Technical Leadership Role

There is usually some confusion among teams when it comes to the roles and responsibilities of Tech Leads. It has been several times I communicated this to my teams’ tech leads in my career, but I have never posted it to my blog. Well, here it is. These are some of the most important responsibilities and traits for the tech leads to develop a high functioning engineering teams. The actual scope might differ in other companies and teams.

Why Technical Leadership Role?

For many software engineers, technical leadership is the first step to any leadership role and perhaps the first role where the hardships of leadership are truly felt. However, it is one of the most rewarding roles in someone’s career. While it requires you to grow technically not just more than others but also faster, it also needs you to develop some human management skills such as clear communication, fostering consensus, developing rapport inside and outside your teams, and working closely with your manager. It is definitely a role I recommend software engineers aspire to become. Transitional roles, like technical leadership, are extremely beneficial to you if you want to grow into higher roles where certain specialties are required as it prepares you for the best of both worlds. Otherwise, when these basic skills are not developed early enough for the aspired roles, people start mentally suffering by stressing their minds out due to the lack of skills to manage the ever-increasing responsibilities.

There are usually two reasons I have observed that stress out people at work: They either don’t know how to do their job due to a lack of necessary skills or don’t know what to do because of the ambiguities in requirements. Both of these reasons will always be present in our lives. It requires mental strength, experience, and prioritization, and several other skills to deal with them, especially these are everyday responsibilities of leadership roles like engineering managers, directors, etc. The technical leadership role can help you with developing strong technical and basic managerial skills by gradually transforming you with experience and responsibilities. Even though certain skills are required to become a technical lead, the growth won’t stop after becoming one. You have to keep learning, which is usually the natural course for this role whether you want it or not since the nature of the job forces you to keep expanding and deepening your knowledge and areas of influence.

Everyone is the Leader of Their Work

First and foremost, even though the technical leaders oversee the technical excellence of their products for their teams, regardless of our position, we are all still the leaders of our own work in the first place. We take pride in leading our work from start to finish where our customers see the realized value. But when we are blocked, we don’t get stressed out over it. Knowing that we have a friendly team environment, we can always reach out to our team ask for help to get us moving forward.

Let’s always remember that as software development experts, we are also customers of many companies, and their meticulous efforts in their products greatly impact us. It is this attention to detail that makes our work possible and more satisfactory. We can certainly know the frustrations if our everyday tools won’t work the way they are supposed to. From this same perspective, if we put ourselves in our customers’ shoes, we will truly understand the importance of our work and our attention to delivering quality every day.

Now, let’s about the technical leadership role.

What Technical Leadership Role is NOT

The technical leadership role does not replace the role of engineering management, and technical leads do not perform the following activities:

  1. Promising or issuing monetary rewards to their teams
  2. Discussing salary with engineers
  3. Promoting engineers
  4. Dealing with their team’s HR-related matters, which includes visa, travel, etc.
  5. Performing performance reviews with engineers

The Role and Responsibilities of Technical Leads

  1. Technical leads assist engineering managers in scaling their time for some of the teams’ most important and high leverage matters, which include growing engineers, creating effective and efficient team processes and strategies, developing strong team culture, hiring the best engineers, reporting the team’s accomplishments up, delivering high-quality solutions, and overall building happy teams with agile mobility, strong cohesion, and autonomy while consistently outperform the customer expectations.
  2. Technical leads have the authority to technically guide their teams to deliver high-quality products in a committed amount of time.
  3. Technical leads, in coordination with their engineering and product manager, drive the high-level and architecture discussions and ensure team members know the reasons for the technical decisions while actively participating in making them.
  4. Technical leads have the authority to use their best judgment to ensure that the team is implementing the solutions most efficiently and effectively in the given situation.
  5. Technical leads foster consensus around technical directions and ensuring everyone has a voice in their teams. However, during a conflict, they have the authority to make the final decision to keep their teams moving forward.
  6. Technical leads are the frontrunners of operational excellence, and they ensure that teams have strong instrumentation, observability, alerting mechanisms, and performance metrics, SLI, SLO in place all the time in coordination with operational teams and best patterns and practices of their company.
  7. Technical leads, by coordinating with their engineering manager, helps that every member of their teams is caught up with the necessary skills of the technology stack used in their teams.

The Traits of Technical Leads

  1. Technical leads are biased for action. They value team consensus, but in the case of a prolonged technical discussion without a decision, technical leads drive their teams to action, which could investigate more of the topic or get their teams to start implementing the solution with the information collected analyzed.
  2. Technical leads are either technically the best of their teams or one of the best. They continuously work to expand both the depth and breadth of their knowledge in the problem domain, technology, and best patterns and practices to keep up with the growing nature of their work.
  3. Technical leads are the champions of understanding the “Why” of their work; they strive to understand where their technical efforts fall into the high-level business objectives. They also always keep their teams aligned with the business objectives in coordination with their product and engineering managers.
  4. Technical leads are technically fearless, and no technical problem is impossible for them. If they don’t know something, they are comfortable learning and applying past skills and experiences and turn their newly acquired knowledge into practical steps for their teams.
  5. Technical leads know how to collect information from multiple sources, turn them into insight, and bring practical and real results using them.
  6. Technical leads are not just enthusiastic but passionate about quality. They have experienced the frustrations of the lack of quality in the past, and they developed a strong urge to drive it.
  7. Technical leaders lead by example. They practice what they recommend and show the impact of quality work firsthand to their teams. They are hands-on with the code and are not afraid of diving deep into the code when necessary.
  8. Technical leads are balanced, pragmatic, and realistic. They use their judgment, experience, and realities to choose the right trade-offs among competing approaches.
  9. Technical leads continuously work with their teams to simplify processes and technologies while fostering a long-term view.
  10. Technical leads can foresee the possible problems in the project’s future and guide their teams to avoid the pitfalls of the chosen paths. They have their teams design for the future, not design the future.
  11. Technical leads adjust their approach to meet the needs of the product, project, and engineering teams. They collect different perspectives and exhibit a growth mindset by both challenging and changing themselves to solve problems. They know that there could be many reasonable and feasible solutions, and sometimes the solution is simply solving something completely different.
  12. Technical leads have a sound mindset to learn from mistakes, go beyond good intentions, and actively put preventive measures to avoid the same mistakes.
  13. Technical leads know of the importance of taking notes and consistently guide their teams to taking notes of the important meetings and conversations for further follow-up and to keep a history of conversations for the future.
  14. Technical leads are aware of their limited time among competing responsibilities and actively prioritize their time to deliver the most impact.
  15. Technical leads, in coordination with their engineering and product managers, show strong ownership and accountability for their teams’ collective work and consistently make sure that the committed sprint work hits the finish line and generates value for our customers.
  16. Technical leads don’t shy away from reaching out to other teams if it helps them deliver their work faster and unblock their team.
  17. Technical leads exhibit emotional maturity even in the most challenging moments and keep their positive and professional behaviors.
  18. Technical leads prefer facts over assumptions and consistently build important decisions on facts and data points. They avoid using “I think …”, “I believe…” when factual information is needed.

I hope this post brings clarity into this role and the teams’ interaction with their technical leads. This list might see some minor changes over time, but overall, the lists above encapsulate the scope of this role. However, many of the traits above belong to technical leads and anyone in the teams.

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