patkua@work

The intersection of technology and leadership

Top 5 Mistakes for First Time Tech Leads

1. Spending too much time writing code

Old habits die hard. When a developer suddenly steps into the Tech Lead role, it is not immediately clear what to do differently. Instead of taking on the Tech Lead responsibilities, they stay heads-down writing code. The more code they write, the better they feel that they are still contributing to the team. Other Tech Lead responsibilities are neglected in favour of writing code, even though they must still be fulfilled. A Tech Lead must spend enough time on non-coding responsibilities. They must ensure a Technical Vision exists, and the development team are working together towards the same goal. Both of these activities require more than just code-writing.

2. Not spending enough time writing code

The “Tech” in the Tech Lead role is there for a reason. It is too easy for a Tech Lead to sit in endless meetings instead of spending time with the team. They lose awareness of how the code is evolving and which patterns or anti-patterns emerge. Without an up-to-date awareness of the system and its technical constraints, a Tech Lead cannot effectively lead the team. A Tech Lead who codes has a better understanding of technical problems or opportunities whilst building and maintaining trust with developers. Writing code keeps the “Post Technical” label away.

3. Making all the technical decisions

The first time Tech Lead may feel compelled to make all decisions. To compensate for writing less code, or to demonstrate their new role, they give input to any and all decisions. Unfortunately this behaviour discourages the team from making contributions. It sends the message to the team they should do what they are told, or not think, even though a team member has the better solution to a particular problem. An effective Tech Lead knows when to give input, knows when to make decisions and when to step back and allow the team to take more ownership.

4. Talking only Tech

A Tech Lead interacts with many people who sit outside of the development team such as people from marketing, finance or a product division. These people usually have very limited technical knowledge. Talking to them in terms of frameworks, libraries and tools adds confusion, frustration and simultaneously signals a lack of empathy. A Tech Lead must find a way to communicate ideas in ways non-technical people can understand such as using analogies and using terms others can easily relate to.

5. Constantly reacting

A new Tech Lead will find themselves juggling several activities at once. The bane of a developer, interruptions, becomes an everyday occurrence. A first time Tech Lead can simply react to the loudest or most alarming situation, even if it is not the most important. Over time, the Tech Lead develops better time and task management skills in order to manage the many demands.

If you liked this article exploring the Tech Lead role, you will be interested in “Talking with Tech Leads,” a book that shares real life experiences from over 35 Tech Leads around the world. Now available on Leanpub.

2 Comments

  1. Was not sure if the book was right for me (aspring to become a real tech lead), and now I am. Great!

  2. Hi Jakub,

    I’m glad that the book helped you make up your mind! It was totally worth the effort putting it together. Cheers.

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