I gave several training courses on being a Tech Lead and found myself giving a number of book recommendations. Although books are no substitute for experiential learning and close feedback cycles, they are useful as ways of introducing some key skills developers rarely practice in their day-to-day tasks.
Dealing with people
Tech Leads are leaders for an engineering/development team and will need to learn the right skills to deal with the unusual world of people. People are different, unique and have their own styles which may or may not align with your own.
Leading Snowflakes is a good e-book, aimed at Engineering Managers who need to deal with different situations. Although it goes beyond just the people aspects, it is still a good book that focuses more on the people side.
Managing Humans (3rd Edition) is written by Rands & Repose author, Michael Lopp. It’s a humuour collection of stories describing the weird and wonderful world an Engineering Manager may find themselves facing. Most, although not all, of the stories will be relevant for Tech Leads. Thanks to Alex for this book recommendation.
Turn the Ship Around is a great leadership story that talks about how leaders should be enabling other leaders using an example story of how a certain leadership style turned around one of the world performing US navy ships into one of the best. Thanks to Joe for this book recommendation.
A Tech Lead represents both the technical perspective to outside stakeholders, and often carries a business perspective back into the technical team. Conflict is inevitable and understanding how to negotiate to an optimal solution for two parties is a timeless skill.
Getting to Yes was one of my favourite books. It’s short and insightful. The book describes the different between Positional-based negotiation (typical) vs Interest-based negotiation. Thanks to Jo for this book reommendation.
Crucial Conversations is a great book talking about how to have conversations when the stakes are high. They also have another great book called Crucical Confrontations that shows you how to have those difficult conversations that matter. Thanks to Clay for this book recommendation.
Meetings. Meetings. Meetings. Three dreaded words that a developer doesn’t want and often can avoid. A Tech Lead often dreads the numerous meetings as well, but will be often expected to contribute. Most meetings will be poorly planned and facilitated, leading to even more drawn-out meetings. In my experience, when done well, meetings can be focused, short and fruitful when they are well-facilitated. Facilitation skills are also useful on a day-to-day basis when ad hoc meetings between team members occur, or when a particular topic needs to be discussed.
The more collaborative a team becomes, the more useful facilitation skills are to the Tech Lead as they blur into the background to all voices be heard.
The Skilled Facilitator (Schwartz) is the first book I recommend to new facilitators. I find the book easy to read and is comprehensive in its explanation about the role of the facilitator.
Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making (Kaner) is a more focused book, covering how to have group discussions, balance hearing all views and to converge into the best outcome.
Collaboration Explained (Tabaka) is written by an agile practitioner who I trust dearly. I have see her facilitate, and her wisdom is captured in this book that will be highly relevant to particularly agile teams.
With authority comes responsibility and the Tech Lead suddenly sees risks everywhere. Or worse, they don’t see any risks at all.
Waltzing with Bears (De Marco and Lister) is the timeless book that talks about risk management in the settings of software development. Although some of the examples may feel a bit outdated (death march projects), our industry still has plenty of them and the lessons are still relevant for today’s style of software development.
Not just for Tech Leads
Unsurprisingly the book recommendations above are not only relevant to Tech Leads, but to anyone who may find themselves in a leadership role. There are plenty more skills and books to recommend, but these are a good starting set.