What Great Tech Leads Are Made Of

For developers interested in moving up the ranks, the idea of becoming a tech lead may be as appealing as it is intimidating.

After all, when leading development teams, only a small proportion of the skills acquired as a programmer will prepare you for the role.

Gone are the days of merely aiming to design and write quality code. Instead, developers must now learn to understand people, resolve conflict and effectively juggle an extraordinary amount of tasks.

Thankfully, here at SPG, we are all about keeping things simple.

So to make this transition as seamless as possible, here are some essential skills every tech lead hopeful is expected to bring to the table:

Pragmatism & Perfectionism

While the best tech leads are extremely practical, they are also somehow capable of finding the perfect balance between speed and excellence of delivery.

They spot shortcuts wherever possible and encourage their teams to circumvent the issues that are clearly hindering progress.

Because every detail matters here, lead programmers must also have a flair for perfectionism. This is not to say that only those on the OCD spectrum will be able to become great leaders. It does, however, signify that code reviews, quality and testing are just as important as getting things done.

Knowledge & Mentorship

Unsurprisingly, team members will also expect their leaders to possess outstanding technical knowledge.

To put this in practical terms, this means that whether your company is coding with Java, Ruby, HTML or Python, lead programmers should be able to shape and mould software across the entire tech stack at hand.

But of course, as Peter Parker’s wise uncle once famously stated, with great power comes great responsibility.

This is why the best tech leads see every challenge as an opportunity for learning and growth. They guide, mentor and inspire team members to tackle their problems and evolve their own professional capabilities.

Fluency & Openness

Yet without exceptional communication skills, all that knowledge would simply go to waste.

Accordingly, effective leaders are also able to bring even the most technically disinclined to a basic understanding of difficult concepts.

Using metaphors, whiteboard sessions and other visual representations, they help teammates and customers make sense of their ideas.

At the same time, they welcome and encourage constructive debate, never limiting themselves to their original vision.

Teamwork & Delegation

In any leadership role, respect must be earned; and there is virtually no better way to do this than by putting oneself on the same level as one’s team.

Consequently, first-rate tech leads are also willing to get their hands dirty and do their fair share of coding tasks as well. As a bonus, this allows them to clear any roadblocks that may be needed to enable their teams to function without a hitch.

But because no single human being can possibly handle every task on their own, great lead developers are also superb delegators, always trusting their teams to deliver on their behalf. This in turn makes teammates feel valued and respected.

Dynamism & Proactivity

You would be hard-pressed to find a good tech lead waiting around for something to do.

These energetic men and women have a knack for finding the tasks that need to be addressed and promptly acting accordingly.

From ensuring that technical progress is kept on track, to coming up with suitable estimates, to establishing future milestones, tech leads must be able to deal with various concerns before they ever have a chance to become actual problems.

To them, responsibility is not given, but taken up.

For this reason, if you are someone who must always be told what to do in order to accomplish anything, then you are likely unfit for this position.

A True Musketeer

As a final thought, the perfect make-up of a great tech lead can be beautifully summed up in Alexandre Dumas’ iconic saying: “One for all, and all for one.”

Critically, tech leads must be selfless, measuring their personal success stories only by the collective achievements of their teams.

When all these qualities are brought together, developers will have absolutely nothing to dread — except for maybe the fear of heights, as they are sure to see their career ladders shoot up towards the sky.

David Blackwood

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