7 min. read

December 01, 2020

Tech Leads: What it Takes to Become a Technical Lead in 2020

In this article, we explain what a technical lead is, what skills are needed to be successful in the role and what goes on in the day of a tech lead.

Saudamani Singh

Saudamani Singh, Freelance Writer

Lead Programmer, Lead Software Engineer, Product Manager, Tech Lead – you’ve probably heard at least one of these labels before, and whatever it is, the responsibilities are the same: to lead a product development team. You’d be hard-pressed finding a company that doesn’t have one. 

As a technical lead, you’ve got a few things on your plate; for example, you’ll devise a technical vision for the team to develop, mentor your team, project-manage, and maintain communication with other teams within the company (to name a few examples). Here we’ll unpack what else this role includes, what skills you will need, and why you’ll love it.

What is a technical lead?

A technical lead is an experienced software engineer who helps a development team create new projects, and apply technical changes to it with minimal risk, all to achieve the company goals.

You’ll want a strong software development background to be successful as a technical lead. This experience not only comes in handy when dealing with specific issues but also helps when managing and assisting the team. You might have several developers working on different elements of a project to get to one final result. 

Simply put, the technical lead prioritises what needs to be fixed or created first, and works with the development team on ‘how’ to fix or create it, rather than all devs working on different issues and projects while the product falls apart. No pressure!

Being the developer and management conduit

We know, we know, what about management? Yes, a significant part of the job does involve you being the line of communication between your team and management. While a development background is important for a tech lead, good communication and leadership skills are important, too. Part of your job is to positively convey management expectations to your developers. You’ll also have to set expectations within the team, communicate deadlines and have discussions with management – but it’s not just the management; you also act as the communication line between different teams or team leads and your clients.  

The day to day life of a technical lead

Okay, cool. Now you know what a tech lead is – but what does the day-to-day life of a good tech lead revolve around? By now you’ll realise it’s not limited to writing code. Here are some of the things tech leads need to do on a day to day basis:          

Controlling the project pipeline

When overseeing a team of developers and engineers, a tech lead needs to ensure the utmost efficiency is maintained by the developers in their team. Making sure that they work towards a unified goal ensures they can effectively report projects to management without any hitches.

Manage the technical team

Tech leads need to maintain a healthy working environment within their team and make sure appropriate tasks are assigned to each team member. As someone the team looks up to, the tech lead holds the responsibility of maintaining good morale and communication within his team. Especially in these times, this point is especially important. If you’re looking for more specific tips, check out our article How to Manage and Engage Remote Developer Teams.

Research new tech

Having a complete understanding of how the software system works, a tech lead should be innovative and figure out how implementing new tech in your projects could speed up progress and increase quality with minimal risk.

Mentor and help

Sorting out technical difficulties for software developers and engineers in the team, assisting with team goals, assisting in individual professional growth and maintaining communication between other teams are all important aspects of the job.

Convey needs to company leaders

A tech lead needs to keep executives in the loop of projects his team is working on and act as a bridge between management and their team. You’ll have to report project updates to management in a timely and effective manner whilst securing any resources the team may need to complete their work.

The average salary for technical leads

That’s a lot of important work, you might be thinking. Yeah, it is! But we reckon you’re generally fairly compensated. Keep in mind, certification, experience and location play a huge factor in determining the salary a tech lead receives. However, the earnings the job title yields is a notable amount of  $101,381 as of 2020!

What type of skills do you need to become a tech lead?

While the job title itself says “Technical lead” you’ll find the job description often lists managerial tasks to be performed by leads as well. It’s the perfect job for those devs who love working with a lot of people ;) Since you’ll likely be making a few technical decisions, you’ll need an excellent knowledge of a range of programming languages – ideally both frontend and backend. But Java, Python and C++ will get you pretty far. Other technical abilities like shell scripting, code reviews, and optimization are all tools, effective tech leads need to have under their belt. Here are some other skills required to be an effective tech lead:

Project management

Experience generates confidence. Having managed projects successfully in the past is necessary experience, as handling upcoming projects for the company is an important deliverable. This is where your technical expertise will take centre stage. To be as efficient as possible, you should know how long a project is going to take, figure out which aspects to start working on first, and have the technical know-how. Since you will be the bridge of communication between management and your team of developers, an ill-managed project would lead to nothing more than an awkward update report to management. Therefore, the planning and execution of the project is to be supervised closely.  

Team management

The ability to manage team members with different skills and inclinations, and keep them motivated to achieve a common goal, is something a company is always on the lookout for! If a problem or question arises, your team mustn’t be left clueless and you should be able to work through the complications. There’s nothing worse than a developer who doesn’t know what they have to do or how to get to where they want to be. Tech leads should ensure they give each team member tasks that speak to their strengths, maintain a uniform standard of task completion give completion, give teams the tools to meet deadlines, and help streamline the completion of the projects.

Strategic and creative thinking

When problems arise during tasks – as they most definitely will – the team often looks for advice and answers from the tech lead. Therefore, they need to be able to adapt to any problems and make important decisions on the go.

 As any good manager does, tech leads need to produce a standard plan of action for various tasks the team might need to perform but must also leave room for innovation and creativity. As they say, there’s more than one way to skin a cat!

Communication and mentorship

Good communication skills can really set you apart. As a tech lead, you are required to not only manage your team but also build a relationship with other teams in the organization. In order to enable people to do technical work and get the best out of them, a tech lead must make sure his team has everything they require to be able to perform those tasks smoothly. Getting your point across so your team knows what needs to be done, but also gaining their confidence through effective decision making and communication will help the team flourish and keep their morale high. This is an asset any company can not refuse. 

Technical capabilities

At the end of the day, the tech lead is still a software architect. A tech lead needs to have an excellent grasp of the technical aspects of the job and a background in development is required. You’ll need to maintain high standards of coding, have the ability to quickly adapt to new technologies, integrate new software and apply changes with minimal liabilities. So, knowing the ins and outs of the software are all prerequisites for an effective tech lead. 

Leadership
Photo by Jehyun Sung on Unsplash

Requirements for the job

Being a technical lead is a job many developers love, but there are a few criteria you’ll need to fill:

Masters or PhD in CS

The organization that hires you needs to know you can put your money where your mouth is and having a masters in Computer Science or a minimum of 2-3 years of experience with a bachelor’s degree is often (but not always!) required before you apply for this position.

Air-tight references

As is the case with many managerial positions, you’ll need multiple references to establish your managerial capabilities and prove that you’ve successfully dealt with supervising employees in the past.

Samples of work 

Similar to what we mentioned above, having samples of work done in the past, which your potential employers can view, helps in showcasing your abilities to lead and manage projects. Keep all documentation or any form of records about past work handy.

Language fluency

Considering all the points above, it’s clear that experience plays a vital role for Tech Leads. And with that experience, gaining top-tier skills in programming languages like Python, Java, C+ Ruby and other programming frameworks is essential if you want to be fit for the role. Not just this, but keeping up-to-date with the new languages and frameworks is also an important part of the job. The role of a tech lead is ever-changing and adapts as per the company's needs. While you’re executing with deep technical knowledge, you’ll also need to utilise your leadership and collaboration skills and face any obstacles with a desire to find an out-of-the-box solution without hampering the workings of your team. No matter where you are, it’s bound to be a challenging yet rewarding role that has a great impact on a company. 

Conclusion

The role of a tech lead is ever-changing and adapts as per the company's needs. While you’re executing with deep technical knowledge, you’ll also need to utilise your leadership and collaboration skills, and face any obstacles with a desire to find an out-of-the-box solution without hampering the workings of your team. No matter where you are, it’s bound to be a challenging yet rewarding role that has a great impact on a company.


Are you looking to progress in your career? Companies on Honeypot are looking for tech leads! Visit honeypot.io to sign up!