Technical Leads: What Do They Do & How To Become One?

People frequently confuse technical lead and engineering managers because of the brief overlap between the two positions. Despite the fact that both roles require organizational skills, they are focused on two distinct areas of responsibility.

While the Engineering Manager is responsible for the HR side of the software engineering department within an organization: career planning, recruitment, and staff productivity, the technical lead's focus involves managing the technical aspects of the software development pipeline in a specific context like a software project or team. For example, in the context of a software development project, ensuring the success of the technology solution provided is crucial for good technical progress.

In other words, technical leads are software engineers who enable the team to work with quality.

At TPP Software, we understand that both positions share common responsibilities such as tracking and reporting on the results of the development process, analyzing the performance of team members, or even occasionally performing technical duties and doing some coding.

In this article, we'll clearly define the responsibilities of technical leads today, and what they can do to improve their team performance. Let's get to it!

Responsibilities of a Technical Leader

Many agree that technical leaders coordinate technical departments and encourage collaboration among members like software developers, engineers, IT system admin, etc. for the overall benefit of the organization.

Based on this, a technical lead is a professional who leads a technical team in a software or technology company. They usually lead teams of developers or software engineers and solve technical problems related to software development, engineering tasks, and product launches.

Not only a technical leader must have a strong background in professional software development and a deep understanding of various technologies, tools, and programming languages, but he/she should also be personable and capable enough to effectively lead a software development team and collaborate with others. As the name implies, a technical leader will lead a team of software developers, determine the technical solution, choose between the appropriate programming languages and frameworks, optimize the efficiency of the project delivery and adopt the right tools to maximize the team's productivity. In addition to technical skills, a technical leader must also possess competent soft skills like leadership and communication, etc. Under various circumstances, the technological leader can be promoted and act as an Engineering Manager and vice versa.

Being a technology leader can be exciting and challenging at the same time. This new role brings with it some responsibilities that the person may not have experienced before. This means that, for those with purely technical backgrounds, dealing with communication, collaboration, and relationship management issues can be very difficult.

This role is a bit of a hybrid because you're still doing technical work: coding, debugging, and other fun stuff, while having the opportunity to lead a small team of engineers (usually 3-5 people). Your role as the technical lead would define the technical vision and implement it with the rest of the engineering team.

The technical lead job description may vary from company to company, but some things remain the same. The engineering leader's responsibilities include planning, designing, promoting, and implementing engineering solutions and improvements.

Here are the key aspects that are part of any technical lead job description. 

Project management

The technical leader manages the team's progress through software development. They plan the phases of the project that lead to a successful final product, with the right technical vision and passing the right tests. Leading a team through these stages requires the ability to schedule deadlines, manage task dependencies and budgets, and track the team's progress at each stage.

Using all this experience and the results of previous projects, the technical lead defines and explains best practices and creates a framework of standards and procedures that are presented to the team and implemented. With a clear plan and structure, engineering leaders can devote their time to tasks where their expertise is important.

Performance evaluation is essential to any software development project, which is why it's important that technical leads know what their team is working on, what obstacles they are facing and where they are progressing, for example, PR, ticketing, and CI/CD activity, etc. to analyze projects and see what can be done better and more efficiently.

Setting the project’s technical direction

The technology leader plays a key role in defining technical success. Therefore, the technology lead must have a deep understanding of the technical aspects of the job and have programming experience. They must adhere to high coding standards, and be able to quickly adapt to new technologies, integrate new software and make changes with minimal liability.

As a Technical Lead, you must not only manage your own team but also build relationships with other teams in the organization. To enable people to do technical work and get the most out of it, the technical lead must ensure that the team has everything they require to be able to perform those tasks smoothly

A good technical lead participates in the development of performance optimization solutions. They work with infrastructure experts to understand network and hardware changes and adapt their strategies. They also work with other technical leaders to ensure the systems they build fit into the company's ecosystem and are supported into the future.

Attention to detail to make the right decisions

Technical leaders test and analyze their team's performance, so they must pay attention to detail to ensure quality. Many of the team's daily tasks, such as coding, programming or software testing, require repetitive actions, so they pay attention to detail to ensure that each action runs as smoothly as possible.

With TPP Software's experience in engineering management solutions, technical leads can correctly assess what is happening without manual intervention by engineers. Because of knowing exactly what the team is doing, team leaders play a key role in prioritizing tasks. They decide which technical metrics are important, for example, what developers focus on for technical debt, what is needed for refactoring, and whether the team can implement new features.

Team building

Technical leaders build teams literally and figuratively. They are tasked with identifying technical professionals who fit into the company's ecosystem in terms of personality and skills, assigning them roles and training them.

When team members know what to do, it's time for technology leaders to focus on creating value. Every team must have a technical vision that all members aspire to. In addition, fostering good relationships among members and communication are also key pillars of good team building.

Effective team leaders spend time with their teams, hold virtual meetings, feel physically comfortable and solution-oriented, and appreciate members’ inputs and involvement.

Excellent communication

Empowered teams are motivated teams. A good technical lead acknowledges hard work, discipline, and talent and fosters freedom and creative thinking culture. These professionals welcome ideas and treat each proposal respectfully, explaining the PROs and CONs of making a particular choice.

Team leaders not only make decisions but also communicate them to the people involved. A large part of your job as a technical lead is supporting and guiding your team, so providing clear directions and setting expectations is important. With effective written and verbal communication, you can be sure your team understands its responsibilities.

Empowered teams are motivated teams. A good technical leader values hard work, discipline, and talent and encourages freedom and a culture of creative thinking. These professionals welcome ideas and treat each suggestion with respect, explaining the pros and cons of a particular choice.

Team leads not only make decisions but also communicate them to those involved. Much of your job as a technical lead is offering support and guidance to your team, so it's important to be able to give clear instructions and set expectations. With effective written and verbal communication, you can ensure that your team understands its responsibilities.

Tracking progress

As a Technical Lead, you are responsible for ensuring an optimized and streamlined workflow that can deliver good results for your developers.

Successful technology leaders can take advantage of the situation and their resources in the best possible way. This can mean creating well-defined processes that allow them to focus on their most important work and developers to focus on theirs. In this way, you can identify and mitigate risks, increase the productivity of members and ensure that they can keep business structures and project managers always up to date with work.

Key Metrics For Successful Technical Lead

The technical lead is a challenging position. There are so many technical and administrative tasks. However, focusing on the right goals and introducing measurable metrics to ensure continuous improvement of your manufacturing process and environment is the best way to ensure success.

Valuable insights from these activities allow you to move from a feeling-driven to a data-driven leadership approach to drive and analyze key metrics.

Below are essential metrics for successful technical management.

- Deployment frequency(DF)
- Meantime to recovery (MTTR)
- Lead time to change (LTTC)
- Change Failure Rate (CFR).

Velocity and quality aren't the only KPIs a CTO or Technical lead should monitor. Providing clear architecture and design direction, managing technical debt, and ensuring code review effectiveness are also important issues.

Review Collaboration: These metrics show collaboration statistics between PR submitters and reviewers. Technical leads have a clear view of responsiveness, thoughtful feedback, responsiveness, and unreviewed PRs.

Code Activity Metrics Monitoring

TPP Software’s Daily Update report shows New Work, Churn and Refactoring

Legacy refactoring code is the process of improving the structure of old or unfamiliar code without changing its functionality. By analyzing this metric, the technical leader can visualize how their team members are working together. The metric measures the amount of code that has been rewritten without changing or adding to the external behaviour and functionality of the software.

New work. By analyzing this performance metric, the technical lead knows exactly how much new code was written by each software development team member.

Churn is a very important metric for businesses whose customers pay on a recurring basis — like SaaS or other subscription-based companies. It is also a performance metric that technical leads should track to see how effectively their team is performing. A code churn occurs when a developer rewrites their code within three weeks of delivery.

A Technical Lead’s Agile engineering management approach

Technical Leaders in Agile environments focus on delegating authority and encouraging self-organization among team members to add value to the project. They also solve problems and remove roadblocks when the team cannot see a way out. 

Additionally, a good technical lead acts as a buffer zone between stakeholders and team members, allowing the former to focus on actual results.

Please contact us if you'd like to learn more about how TPP Software's engineering solution helps technology leaders meet their responsibilities.