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Challenges of Being a Tech Lead

Marko M.9 min readNov 6, 2023Business & Life
Challenges of Being a Tech Lead
Marko M.9 min read
Contents:
What makes a tech lead… a true lead?
Behind the scenes of being a tech lead
Don’t be afraid to embrace the responsibilities that come with the role
Overcoming the challenges of being a tech lead
Growing into a tech lead role

Being a technical lead is much more than just programming.

Being a tech lead requires a large amount of professional experience in software development and a deep understanding of technology. However, aside from these qualifications, it also entails being approachable and capable enough to collaborate and help others while effectively leading a team.

What makes a tech lead… a true lead?

A tech lead is usually a more senior member with the skills to lead, direct and manage technical projects. While coordinating projects or overseeing feature development from start to finish, they remain individual contributors. Tech leads often have additional responsibilities, such as coordination between various departments or monitoring testing and quality assurance tasks for their projects. There is a whole set of skills a tech lead should possess and continually work on. Let’s see why they all matter!

Never stop upgrading your technical knowledge

Although technical knowledge isn’t the sole required skill, it is a prerequisite. A tech lead should possess a deep understanding of technology while being open to adopting new technologies and learning. No matter your current position, be ready to learn something new.

Why mastering effective communication is the key skill

It is not said without reason that communication is the key to success. You should be able to communicate with your team and help them to grow effectively. From technical meetings to workshops, you must remember that effective communication requires active listening. Active listening involves both verbal and nonverbal communication, and like most soft skills, it requires practice. As a result, you will connect more with people and avoid many errors in work due to ineffective communication.

As a tech lead, you will also collaborate with non-tech departments, so be prepared to adeptly represent your team and provide context to all your visions and ideas. Your ability to effectively convey information will determine the success of your team.

Mentorship holds significance for both sides

I would highlight this as one of the most important responsibilities of a tech lead, particularly when your team includes less experienced developers. Mentoring is all about building work relationships in the long run. This skill requires patience and the ability to provide constructive feedback. Additionally, you’re there to provide continuous support and encouragement to your team, motivating them to tackle challenges independently and learn continuously.

Critical thinking develops great leaders

You shouldn’t take every idea at face value. In work, the potential for incorrect suggestions and advice is ever-present. Blindly following everything presented to you can only waste your time. Developing your critical thinking skills as a leader is pivotal in helping you and your team solve problems.

Decision-making is not your enemy

Although we said that to be a tech lead, you need to have experience, not all senior engineers are born to be leaders. The ability to make the decision and commit yourselves, both to your team and projects, is what sets you apart. Fear of leadership is a real thing because it brings the weight of responsibility on your back, and as a leader, you need to learn how to deal with that.

Decisions need to be made confidently and with a level head. In every moment, you need to be aware of where the team’s priorities lie. Should you all focus on one thing or another this sprint? Can the team afford tech debt when implementing some features?

Time managment is a secret to success

Nowadays, a lot is being said about time management skills in every industry. It requires a whole set of skills; now imagine if it’s not just you in question but your entire team.

Remember that some days you will still do coding most of the time, but given your position as leader, expect your calendar to be packed with meetings and interruptions. Don’t you worry because, on most days, you will have a mix of both. More fun for you!

A quick tip: learn how to block off time on your calendar to have more focus on your work.

The art of knowing when to delegate

The inability to delegate is one of the most common management mistakes. To delegate doesn’t mean you are incapable of doing something; it means you have mastered the art of time management and play to your team’s strengths and goals. You are giving a chance to your team members to learn and develop while creating time for your priorities.

Optimize your team through documentation and project process improvement

As a tech lead, be prepared to be asked the same questions. Repeatedly. And frequently. Every team member is responsible for reviewing code, so teach them about the best code review practices. By including your team members in resolving complex problems, you are teaching them critical thinking; as a result, you will have another person capable enough to help in the future.

Adequate documentation supports both the development team and stakeholders, and it’s an essential part of every software project. Doing this correctly will help communicate more effectively and prevent future mistakes.

All of this helps optimize the developer experience. Providing a robust development environment with clear documentation will help the team become more productive. Writing missing tests for code that frequently breaks would also help. The tech lead should work with each team member to identify project issues and gaps in their knowledge and make a plan to help them fill them. Although he or she is a lead, they still need to do detailed code reviews with other developers, follow best practices and improve processes and documentation.

Benefit from your negotiation skills

Because of your job position, you will often interact with product owners and stakeholders. Your goal is to align expectations and prioritize your team’s work.

To maximize productivity and fair task distribution in a team, negotiation skills help when assigning tasks among team members. Effective negotiation will help you to improve your processes, implement new technologies or methodologies and drive continuous improvement.

Project planning and stakeholder management

The tech lead works with the product owner to create a development plan for a project and to set realistic timelines. In case of unrealistic deadlines, the tech lead is there to put a hard stop and make the priorities known. Together with a product owner, they create a list of the most critical items to deliver in a certain amount of time. After that, they create a plan to deliver future iterations in an agile way.

Understanding how to manage clients, various stakeholders, and business partners is crucial. The ability to maintain good collaboration and align expectations is what will make a project great. You can imagine a tech lead as a bridge between a project's technical and business sides. The tech lead is responsible for effectively communicating technical terms and ideas so stakeholders can clearly understand them.

Is Time Management a Skill

Behind the scenes of being a tech lead

No two individuals will approach a task in the same way. Each leader’s unique perspective, skills, and experiences contribute to how they tackle challenges. Let’s take a glimpse into what my schedule looks like.

A month and a week in the shoes of a tech lead

Be prepared for each week to be different. In one week, you’ll help your fellow team members with their tasks, coaching and contributing to their growth. In another week, your focus will be on more project-related meetings. On a monthly basis, there is a lot of planning work for two-week sprints, quarters, prioritization of development tasks, and resolving dependencies effectively to increase team productivity and delivery.

It may come as a shock, but as a tech lead, there can be a whole week without you writing a single line of code. The priority is that your entire team is productive and successful.

A few hours per week are dedicated to coding, while the majority of the time goes to project meetings, aiding in unblocking team members, and reviewing code and ideas from other developers. It is difficult to focus on writing good code when you are being interrupted every hour by a meeting.

What does my typical day look like?

Remember, while having a routine is important, it’s not set in stone.

During the initial three hours of the morning, I focus on checking and responding to all new emails and Slack messages. To visualize my work, I think about the priorities for the day and assess whether anything remains from the previous day's work.

The midday period is generally reserved for meetings and collaborative pair programming sessions with developers - a great way to pick up some new information and knowledge. As a reminder from the message at the beginning: never stop upgrading your knowledge, no matter your position.

It’s your responsibility always to expect the unexpected, so working on things you didn’t set a tight schedule is part of the workday.

A quick tip: don’t forget to check with your team where you can unblock them so they can continue their work.

Given the projects involving team members across different time zones, I reserve the end of the day for a daily standup, product/tech sync, planning, and refinement meetings. After all these meetings, if there is time, I continue working on my tasks and bugs. It all comes a full circle because, at the end of my day, I prepare a starting point for the next day.

Don’t be afraid to embrace the responsibilities that come with the role

Maybe it sounds scary at first, but don’t shy away from taking on full responsibility in this role. In this position, you will :

  • Provide technical support to the product owner and other stakeholders

  • Organize and prioritize the project's technical work so the right parts get done at the right time

  • Lead technical design meetings and technical breakdowns

  • Make sure that teams meet high standards of quality and implement best practices

  • Ensure that team members understand project processes and documentation

  • Help to remove blockers, which may include seeking answers from other departments or teams

  • Make sure that the team has the right tools and resources to complete their task

  • Teach through pair programming and code reviews

  • Influence the team with new ideas, methodologies, etc

  • Make sure the team is working toward the project vision and timeline

  • Communicate and negotiate with stakeholders on project timelines, deadlines, and overall work

Embracing Tech Lead Responsibilities

Overcoming the challenges of being a tech lead

1. Decision-making responsibility

As previously mentioned, what sets tech leads apart from senior developers is their ability to make decisions while being aware of the responsibility that comes with it. If you are the lead, the responsibility to decide which technology or tools to use for a feature or a project is in your hands.

This is a challenging task because it requires taking into account several factors. Choosing the right tool for the job includes both tech lead and developer, and the wrong choice can lead the project in the completely wrong direction. Later, this could be a very expensive mistake for everyone included. Recognizing your team’s strengths is an integral aspect of your skill set. It doesn’t make sense to push some technology if the team isn’t comfortable working with it or has no knowledge of it. When choosing a technology, you should consider the project's maintainability and the difficulty of finding new talents who would continue to work with that technology.

Never hesitate to raise your concerns regarding unrealistic deadlines, timelines, and workload overall. As a representative of your team, you should consistently communicate the delivery timeline transparently to stakeholders.

2. Preventing burnout

Workplace burnouts are regrettably all too typical in today’s world. A tech lead’s role should be to keep their team from becoming burnt out while not running themself into the ground.

Burnout results from an unhealthy workplace, which reduces productivity and the health and happiness of everyone involved. It is important to learn how to recognize signs of burnout in a team and have open communication with the team to determine the reasons for their problems. Addressing issues as soon as possible in a project or team will reduce frustration and stress, or they will cause even more problems in the future. You should always remember that taking breaks at work is important.

3. Cultivating a strong team culture

Building a strong team culture increases the whole team’s productivity and efficiency. Having the necessary skills and knowledge is important, but partaking in building team culture will bring cohesiveness to the next level. It’s on you to set the tone of team culture and provide opportunities for open and transparent communication. As a tech lead, you need to create space for personal and professional goals and have everyone in alignment with team and company values.

While working towards a common goal as a team, each individual contributes to the team culture. Because of this, as a tech lead, you can count on mentoring less experienced developers and new team members. This requires patience, understanding, and the ability to impart knowledge to someone.

Growing into a tech lead role

Remember that as a lead, you need to master the art of balancing multiple responsibilities and juggling between tech and non-tech tasks. Coming to terms with the fact that you can’t be in complete control of everything that happens on the project is a fact you need to be willing to accept.

Sometimes, you need to learn to let your team members fail. This will help the team be more independent, which, in the end, frees up your own schedule for your technical tasks.

You are responsible for ensuring that teams satisfy high-quality standards and that best practices are implemented while delivering all projects and features on time. Learning how to prioritize the work effectively will help the team work toward goals with a minimized number of blockers. In return, it will boost their productivity and success.

As a tech lead, you will continuously learn, and that’s a part of your role. A good tech lead works on improving knowledge and skill set while knowing when to delegate. Remember, you can’t do it all by yourself!

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