5 min. read

October 10, 2021

tech lead

Technical Lead Roles and Responsibilities in 2021

The dual role of a technical lead and an overview of the responsibilities

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Yasas Sri Wickramasinghe, Lead Software Engineer (Past), Lecturer

A lot of developers want to become technical leaders at some point in their careers. It's a nice title and it does come with a hefty salary bump. Which is all well deserved if you are at that point in your career.

But obviously, there's more to it — that's why you are reading this article.

You don't want to be any technical lead, you want to be the best technical lead you can be. You want to inspire a team and drive a successful product roadmap and fulfil those lead duties to the best of your ability.

“Leadership is not about being in charge. Leadership is about taking care of those in your charge.” — Simon Sinek

Although the role may seem shiny from the outside, there's a lot more underneath the surface. In this article, I'd like to break down the key roles and responsibilities of a technical lead plus some guidelines for success.

How to become a Technical Lead?

Check the current tech lead job postings on LinkedIn. You'll see there are quite a few requirements listed (and some overly optimistic nice-to-haves). Regardless, we can break these common requirements down into three main categories:

  1. Academic Qualifications

  2. Exceptional Technical Skills

  3. Management and Soft Skills

From job postings, we can see that most employers are not only looking for a candidate with excellent technical skills but also academic backing and experience managing a tech team.

“A good tech lead is always a good people manager.”

Over the last few years, soft skills and people management skills have become increasingly desired among employers. Many developers fulfil the technical and academic aspects but it rare candidates have what it takes to be a good leader.

The dual role of a Technical Lead

With the industry experience I have, and by working with highly successful technical leaders for many years, I see the role of a technical lead as a dual role. Let me explain.

dual role of tech lead

1. Role as a Product Leader

The quality of the software product is a direct Key Performance Indicator (KPI) of you as a Tech Lead. It's tied to how successful your product leadership is. Therefore, as a lead, you must play a significant role in guiding the team to develop a product that exceeds quality expectations (as much as you can). Here are some of the key responsibilities you need to fulfil this responsibility.

Synthesis of Architectural and Design Solutions

It is expected that a tech lead should choose suitable programming languages, frameworks, design patterns, and tools for product development. To take these correct technical decisions at the right time, I recommend the below activities for Tech Leads.

  • Keep in touch with popular tech conferences (e.g., JavaZoneAWS re:Invent Conference).

  • Read tech blogs daily (of course, that is what you do right now, reading the .cult by Honeypot)

  • Attend meet-ups and also maintain constant communication with other Tech Leads around you.

Clarify technical doubts of product stakeholders

There can be many stakeholders for a project, including the product owner, development team, business analysts, and project managers. All of these people will consult you for product-related queries. It is your responsibility to clarify those, including coaching junior developers to resolve technical impediments they might have encountered.

Ensure product quality

This is critical because if something goes wrong in quality aspects, whether you like it or not, people will usually judge you. As a Tech Lead, you are in charge of the product quality, so you need to implement techniques to verify and validate your artefacts before sending them to production. Below are some of the tactics you can implement within your team to ensure product quality.

  • Promote the usage of code quality and code security analyzers (e.g., SonarLint and SonarQube).

  • Implement threshold checks for unit test coverages within the CI/CD pipeline.

  • Allocate enough time in your schedule to conduct thorough code reviews.

  • Automate tests as much as possible and integrate test results and other app figures to real-time analytics dashboards (e.g., Grafana DashboardAmazon CloudWatch).

  • Comply with software quality and security standards/certifications (e.g., ISO/IEC 25000ISO/IEC 27001).

2. Role as a Team Leader

There is confusion in the industry with the term “Tech Lead” and “Team Lead.”

To be a successful Tech Lead, you need to be an excellent Team Leader.

It doesn't matter how fluent you are technical if don’t have people management skills you're going to struggle.

Nowadays, the software engineering industry is moving toward having simple hierarchies, making the chain of command shorter.

So as a Tech Lead, you are expected to play the “Team Leader” role as well. Below are some of the responsibilities to focus on.

Understand the Team

The driving force of the product is the team, so it is essential to know the team better. As a Tech Lead, you need to frequently talk with every team member, not just the technical details, to get to know each team member’s strengths, weaknesses, and interests.

Hire New Talents and On-board Them Faster

As a Tech Lead, you need to have a strategic plan to grow your team and methods to reduce the risks that can affect the product development progress. Such a significant risk is employee turnover. Therefore, you need to have some pre-identified potential future team member profiles with you. If there is a sudden resource need, those will come in handy.

Together with that, Tech Leads are responsible for creating and maintaining the onboarding process of new members.

Mentor and Guide the Team to Learn More

I hope you all have had great mentors during your career journey so far. As a Tech Lead, sharing the experiences and expertise with junior developers can create a mentor-mentee atmosphere within the team. And also, inspiring team members to learn cutting-edge technologies helps make a collaborative team culture.

These are the key responsibilities of the dual role that play by Tech Leads. However, note that the nature of the Tech Lead job varies based on the organization and nature of the project.

Getting ready for a Technical Lead interview?

Suppose you read this article so far and feel the technical lead role is the one you are looking forward to getting in. In that case, I recommend reading “The Software Developer’s Guide to Career Ownership.” for more awareness about current software development career paths.

If you are a Java developer, you can look at my other article, “Java Interview Questions for Experienced Developers” as well.

Final Thoughts

Tech Leads are experts in programming languages, frameworks, and architectures. But don’t forget that they are very skilled communicators as well. This article presented this as the dual role of Tech Leads and their key responsibilities.

I believe this knowledge will help you to plan ahead and work on your own career journey. I wish you all the best! 👏👏👏