A technology expert is a person who can use technology to solve a varied set of problems. Such a person has detailed insights and practical experience regarding the use of technology. However, not all technology experts are tech leaders. This blog discusses what technical leadership entails, the personal traits that enable you to transition to a tech lead, and how this enriches a tech team.
Here's what you'll learn from reading this post:
- Definition of technical leadership
- Technical leadership skills
- Principle personal traits of technical leadership
- How good leaders can change a team
What is Technical Leadership?
Technical leadership is the ability to supervise a team of technical experts while making decisions related to engineering and software development. It entails overseeing and leading the process of developing technological solutions.
Skills and personal traits are two important aspects of technical leadership. The former, which includes both technical and management skills, has to do with competence in the technical field, and the latter is a consequence of your life experiences, skillsets, habits, and so on.
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Technical Leadership Skills
A technical leader's skillset has two components. One pertains to technical skills, and the other pertains to management skills. Most technology experts develop varied technical skills, but only a few develop a taste for management.
Possessing technical skills means you have in-depth practical and theoretical knowledge of your technology stack. Technical leaders are often responsible for mentoring or coaching developers on technical matters, including reviewing code and design.
- Technical Guidance: You'll likely participate in high-level and architecture discussions and then translate that vision to your team members. You'll educate the team on the reasons for the technical decisions. And also ensure the team effectively implements the solutions.
- Technical Decisions: It's important to ensure everyone in the team has a voice in technical decisions. However, during a conflict, a technical lead should make the final decision to progress the team forward.
- Coding: Many tech leaders struggle to find a balance between their coding and non-coding responsibilities. Either they continue to code full time or stop coding at all. As a technical leader, it’s important that you don't neglect technical activities.
- Code Reviews: You shouldn't review every change to the codebase, but a technical leader might want to do code reviews for junior developers or new hires to mentor them. It's important that you take a coaching approach and explain everything clearly, such as why a certain approach is good and why you’re doing something in a particular manner.
- Operational Excellence: The technical leader is responsible for the performance of the team. This could include measuring the investment of time and resources on certain projects or managing cycle time and pull request size. This means you'll want to have tools like LinearB that provide observability, alerting mechanisms, and performance metrics to help you improve your dev team's productivity.
Other crucial skills of being a tech leader are management-related skills. Some developers have no interest in exploring management responsibilities. Others will naturally begin to demonstrate the following skills necessary for promotion to a technical leader.
- Project management: A leader has to take responsilibity for the planning and execution of work and managing their team's time. Technical leaders are often looking at work from a long-term, high-level perspective.
- Crisis management: Every leader has good days and bad days. The more successful leaders are calm under pressure, and appear to always be in control and able to steady the ship, even in the most stressful situations.
- Problem-solving: Rather than just identifying problems, technical leaders need to actively contributing to implementing solutions.
- Have a likable personality: Building meaningful relationships is a key responsibility of a leader. Tech leaders and team managers must establish trust with both company leaders and the team members they’ll work with on a daily basis to achieve team and company goals.
Principle Personality Traits of Technical Leadership
Technical and management skills are two aspects of your skillset. But there is much more to what makes a leader, including personality traits. The following section outlines some of the principle traits of technical leadership. These are more than just traits; these are perspectives and a way of thinking.
Holistic and Broad Perspective
As a technical leader, your focus is not just on your technical expertise to solve a problem. Instead, you consider the perspective of different team members, customers, and the organization. You pay attention to how your decisions will affect the overall growth of the organization and the individual team members. You see beyond yourself and your team and focus on the long-term effects of a decision.
Organizational and Actionable Steps
Knowing how to take actionable steps is a skill that any leader must possess. However, it is important to know how to organize and break down a business requirement into smaller actionable chunks. Tech leads must define the architectural framework of the business problem, know the different components and their interactions, and map them onto the different team members.
Know Thy Team
To solve a business problem optimally, you must look at it from different perspectives. Each team member possesses varied skills, and each has their strengths and weaknesses. It is the responsibility of the technical leader to be familiar with their strengths and weaknesses and figure out a way to assign tasks that would benefit the team's growth. Moreover, a leader must build a relationship with the team members and mentor and inspire them to make achievements beyond their comfort.
Communication is an obvious requirement; it is often the source of conflict within a team. Especially now when dev teams rely so heavily on asynchronous communication in remote work environments.
Clear communication is about articulating what a solution should look like and acknowledging whether all team members have the same picture of the solution. If any developers have a different solution, encourage the team to share and listen to their ideas.
Address any conflicts within the team and be empathetic while still taking rational action to solve the problem at hand. Your rational actions should align with your holistic view of the organization and your team members' growth.
Open to Innovation
Experimenting with new ideas builds team spirit. Technical leadership means testing new, unconventional ideas while simultaneously considering the potential risks. A tech lead should not be afraid to take risks supported by data.
Critical thinking is a crucial aspect of making such decisions and should thus be a trait of any technical leader. Furthermore, critical thinking enables a leader to identify potential problems and continuously improve technologies, products, and processes within an engineering team.
Due to heavy workloads, burnout is a frequent occurrence in tech teams. Dealing with team burnout requires emotional empathy and requires you to create stress outlets for the team.
While there is no one fix for reducing stress, addressing it and finding creative ways to reduce it often builds team spirit. Organizing regular team challenges and activities is one way to help your team destress, socialize, and build stronger bonds.
Connecting with a community of other technical leaders is a great way to manage your personal stress too. Hearing that others have similar challenges or emotions can help put your individual stress into perspective.
Overall, technical leadership is a role that comes with great responsibilities. Having the necessary skills and experiences is crucial to honing the ability to take on the duties associated with technical leadership.
Good technical leaders can affect how well a team and an organization function. The following section briefly discusses what a technical leader brings and how it can impact the team.
How Good Leaders Can Impact the Team
As a leader, one of the most crucial aspects is recognizing how your behavior and your traits influence the team. An excellent technical leader inspires the team. The leader's values and traits trickle down to team members to shape their behavior. Decisive leaders shape an environment in which decisiveness becomes a trait of the entire team, whereas closed-minded leaders create an environment that suppresses their team's creativity.
The impact that technical leaders can have on the team can be life-changing. More often than not, a leader inspires team members with their knowledge, and the team follows the leader's thought processes. If leaders focus on and discuss new technologies and trends, team members will be open to learning. These factors have a major influence on team performance.
A technical leader who is communicative, decisive, empathetic, innovative, knowledgeable, and passionate about the technology and the work reflects onto team members. Therefore, if you're looking to take on a technical leadership role, make sure you have the skills, the tools, and, more importantly, understand the impact you can have.