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What makes a great Tech Lead?

If you're a developer trying to understand what may be required to take a step up, then you've come to the right place. In this article, we'll discuss a few of the traits that we look for when hiring or promoting into Tech leadership roles:

Full Stack over Specialist

Modern Tech Leads are expected to know the full stack. For us, this means front-to-back development: front end (Coffeescript, Sass, HTML) through to server side development (Ruby, Python etc) and onto Devops (Chef, Docker, Terraform etc). It's ok to have areas where you feel more confident, but as a Tech Lead, you're expected to be shaping an application across the entire stack.

Takes Responsibility over Waits For Tasks

Modern Tech Leads don't wait for responsibility. They identify a job that needs to be done and they act. 'Responsibility is taken, not given' is a good mantra, and this couldn't be more true then when taking the step up into a Tech Leadership type of role. If you are waiting for someone to promote you or to give you more responsibility, then you're going to wait for a long time.

Breaks New Ground over Sticks To Tried & Tested

The software industry moves incredibly fast. New frameworks, techniques and tools are cropping up every single day. The modern Tech Lead needs to be on the cutting-edge, taking the appropriate opportunities to introduce new techniques and tooling into deliveries. It's no good continuing to roll out the same 'tried and tested' approach to every project. If you do this, you'll be left behind.

Author over Translator

In years gone by, a big specification document would land on your desk and you'd translate that into some working software. Nowadays, your job as Tech Lead is to be an Author, not a Translator. You're providing the narrative and deciding the journey in which the project should take. This requires creativity and imagination combined with a rigorous understanding of process.

Active Communicator over Wallflower

Modern Tech Leads need to be active communicators. Gone are the days of hiding away in the corner, waiting for somebody else to start an important conversation. You should be the one encouraging ongoing active communication within a team, as communication is key to making great software.

Reliable over Unreliable

The Modern Tech Lead is reliable. Their team can always count on them to be there and to be available. It will be unusual for them to be sick, running late or missing a deadline. It's this reliability which means they can take on the responsibility to run projects. We've seen a close correlation between an increased level of responsibility and reliability improving.

Mentor over Mentee

The Modern Tech Lead providers mentorship and looks to nurture and support their colleagues. They move from primarily asking for help to providing this help to others. They recognise challenges colleagues are facing and suggest ways of improving. They recognise that anything they do to improve an individual will help the overall team.

Embraces Customers over Avoids Customers

The Modern Tech Lead is comfortable interfacing with customers. They move from letting others deal with customers, to feeling confident and able to have conversations about anything that will impact delivery.

Solves The Problem over Flags The Problem

The modern Tech Lead is a problem solver. They don't sit around waiting for somebody to remove a blocker. They poke, they prod and they find novel ways to move things forwards, so they can continue shipping code. They find a smell and they fix it, rather than letting the smell impede progress.

Always Be Learning

As the business of software continues to get increasingly complex, the skills required will continue to evolve. To keep up, you'll need to be a great learner and you'll need to set aside time to learn new things.

If you can do this, the rest should fall into place.

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