Every organisation, every team and every product has different challenges and goals. This makes defining the Technical Leaders within this team a very difficult task.
But, regardless of agile team structures and ever changing project briefs, there are still some skills that the very best Technical Leaders use to manage engineering and technical teams.
In this article, we bring together a variety of different technical leaders, from tech leads to engineering managers, to discuss the skills needed to be successful in the role.
Andreas Forslund, Product Area Lead Engineer at H&M Group
Andreas Forslund is aProduct Area Lead Engineer at H&M Group. As H&M Group makes the transition towards becoming a product-based organisation, Andreas runs an area within the customer domain which has nine teams and about 190 people in total spread out across that area. It’s Andreas’ responsibility to make sure that domain is going in a particular direction, and that they’re developing along the same guardrails .
Despite not having direct management responsibilities to the Engineers in his current role, Andreas has significant pedigree when it comes to managing technical teams.
You’ve got to be Good at Recognising Patterns and Broader Concepts
Although the role of ‘Tech Lead’ will mean different things to different organisations, the role will almost always be concerned with the overarching strategic vision of the technical teams under its responsibility.
As a result, the very best Tech Leads often have a strong sense of vision and the ability to set a strategy and have the technical knowledge to execute that vision. For Andreas, it’s also about balancing that with strong interpersonal skills.
“You need to find ways to communicate and connect to people all across the business, not only other developers, so that you can really start to have a broad view.”
Always Be Aware of the Personality of the Team When Hiring
Tech leaders will also be responsible for hiring and with that comes the added responsibility of maintaining the team balance. Culturally, this means finding the right personality to either fit in with the rest of the group or add to it. For Andreas, the right candidate isn’t always the most technically gifted.
“It's not always the right thing to choose the most technically advanced person, it's sometimes the best choice to pick a good team player and create a good team environment and increase collaboration.”
Never Stop Working On Your Own Skills
Stepping away from individual contributions can be difficult for professionals who have recently stepped up into technical leadership. Spending too much time in the code will stunt the development of your team and take you away from setting the direction of the team. On the other hand, abandoning it entirely can leave you under informed when it comes to technical requirements.
For Andreas, it’s about finding the balance.
“I've never left behind actually coding because it helps me communicate with tech teams and understand what they're working on.”
Sarwarul Rizvi, Technical Lead at Svea (Payment Admin)
Sarwarul Rizvi is the Technical Lead at Svea. Responsible for the direction and leadership of his Payment Admin team, Sarwarul works closely with the Product Owner to break down new features into Product Backlog Items. He performs technical feasibility analysis of new features and informs the product team of any challenges.
With a team that scales up and down depending on the project in the pipeline, Sarwarul is often leading a large number of technical professionals.
Share Responsibility in your team to break down silos
A Technical Lead is often the lynchpin of the technical team and first port of call for any problems that may arise. For Sarwarul, who wanted to break down silos within his team, sharing responsibility across the team can help reduce bottlenecks.
“Focus on building cross-functional, knowledge-driven, and self-organised teams. So that everyone has the responsibility to understand the challenges we face. I think it is very important to spread the knowledge and share the responsibility. So empower the team.”
Know the business domain
A Technical Lead will be called upon for most technical problems within their domain, therefore, a strong knowledge of the business domain will be invaluable to both the leading of the team and also the development of a customer-centric product.
“if you want to be a good or an efficient tech lead, it's very important to know the business domain and what your customer is actually doing with your product. This isn’t just about developing an application, this is about how your customers feel, how it’s being used and what your customer wants.”
Narayanan Kannan - Tech lead, Apps at Coop Sverige
Narayanan Kannan is the Tech lead Apps at Coop Sverige. Starting his career as a developer, Narayanan has spent the more recent parts of his career working on his technical leadership skills and understanding the complexities of humans while in a technical team.
You Need to be a ble to lead your team by showing them the direction while giving freedom at the same time.
Communication is key when it comes to technical leadership. For Narayanan, it’s a key trait that is core to his development and that of his team.
“I've seen a lot of developers who are just like yeah, just give me a task and i’ll get it done. I mean, that is not the characteristic of a lead. You will probably be a very good developer, probably an architect at some point but to become a lead, a developer should be able to complete the task and at the same time take the effort of understanding the business impact and how it actually affects the end users, then that would be a good tech lead characteristic.”
Sakke Wiik, Technical Lead at SBAB
Sakke Wiik is a Technical Lead at a Swedish Bank, SBAB. With 2 years as a consultant Technical Lead, Sakke has been working on building systems for corporate banking customers.
Leading a team of 6, highly experienced Java developers and a tester, Sakke’s remit as a technical lead changes from project to project. Whether it’s rolling your sleeves and getting stuck into the code or explaining the intricacies of the latest developments - the technical lead will almost always act as the buffer between the technical talent and the rest of the business.
Be The Glue Between Development and the rest of the Business
An effective Tech Lead needs to have strong leadership skills, even when they are not accountable for line management. Leadership skills like coaching, influencing and delegation are keys to success.
In some teams, it’s important for the tech lead to act as the glue between development and the rest of the business. This is usually more the case with companies that have complex domains and where stakeholders are involved at every level with technical product development.
“You’re there to clarify the communication between the business and the developers. You need to be able to be there at the middle level to provide alignment to everyone.”
Building alignment means not just being able to get a team of engineers headed in the same direction, but also finding alignment with cross-functional peers and also with the company at large. It means knowing what other people or teams care about and being able to share the impact of the team's work in language that the audience cares about, at the right level of granularity and detail.
Tech leads that build alignment will find it easier to get things done in what is a very hectic role.
“you're in the middle of the heat in this position. You need to be able to context switch frequently because you're quite often the bridge between different parts of the business.”