After working in their role for some time, software developers may wonder what career opportunities await them beyond coding. Certainly, taking the next step is not obligatory. Some people feel comfortable remaining developers for their entire professional careers.
However, for those who wish to explore other options, there are a number of different growth paths to choose from—whether it’s working as a solution architect, a Scrum master or a product owner, just to name a few examples.
Another option to consider is a team lead—considered by many to be a position that is a culmination of long-time efforts, passion and dedication as an IT specialist. But is becoming a team lead an opportunity that an ambitious developer should consider?
What Makes a Great Team Lead?
Unlike developers, who usually work on a specific aspect of a project and communicate mainly with other developers, team leads—as the title suggests—are focused on coordinating the activities of and collaborating with the entire team. They also spend far less time dealing with technical issues. A team lead is a leader, a representative and a manager of the team and, as such, their responsibilities involve communicating with both the team members and stakeholders within and outside the company.
A team lead is the first person a developer would go to when a problem occurs and is the person responsible for suggesting a solution. Bug fixes, tooling and library choices or thoughts on how to approach a specific code-related problem—these are the team leads’ specialties since their technical knowledge and experience are what propelled them into a leadership role in the first place.
The Go-To Point of Contact
If you want to improve an application or a test, the team lead is the person to talk to about it. They should know the ins-and-outs of technology solutions and be able to explain to less-seasoned developers why something works and something else doesn’t, or why it may be a good idea to do X instead of Y.
This doesn’t mean, however, that they are all-knowing. Asking other experienced developers for their insight, opinions or to share their knowledge is something good team leads do without fear of losing their authority. They should always be open to other people’s suggestions and welcome innovative ideas.
In addition, team leads should think about a project as a whole, including all the people who are working on it. They can direct developers’ efforts and tell their teams what to pay attention to while making improvements, sharing best practices and taking care of code infrastructure and project architecture.
When to Step Up
It seems obvious that experience, knowledge, passion and communication skills are all things that ultimately make a good team lead. And these skills aren’t developed overnight—they often start as junior engineering or DevOps professionals and gain technical, social and leadership skills before they can guide an entire team or teams.
Sometimes, this progression is a natural consequence of an individual’s personality and work style. A team may notice that one member has more extensive knowledge and/or that one particular person is a natural leader who can motivate others and direct their activities. At other times, team leads emerge spontaneously because of their technical knowledge or they volunteer to gain valuable experience.
For a developer, taking the next step may seem like getting thrown into the deep end. But many current developer skills will be useful in their new role.
For instance, attention to detail—something most developers are known for—can be invaluable as a team lead. Relentlessly analyzing and improving code, for example, is likely to come in handy in a team lead’s work.
The Importance of Soft Skills
Technical know-how, experience, passion, hard work and conscientiousness are the keys to becoming a successful team lead, but it’s also necessary to enjoy working with other people.
A team leader’s job requires communication, collaboration and people skills more than ever before. Collaborating with team members as well as other stakeholders within and outside the company means that a team lead is a central figure in the IT and business processes. Being tech-savvy is great, but leading a team goes far beyond that since it’s about knowledge and experience and being able to communicate about that knowledge and experience.
Another key competency is fluency in English. Using English for coding purposes and communicating in English are two different things. As a team lead, you must talk to your clients and team members, many of whom work remotely and may be in different countries. Of course, you can develop your language skills as you go when you’re a team lead; as with most skills, learning by doing can help with confidence and fluency.
Building language skills can happen simultaneously with building technical and interpersonal skills. Knowledge of various technologies, frameworks and functionalities; experience in working with them; finding ways to change and improve things—all of these give team leads a good reason to practice language skills by talking with colleagues, supervising projects and advising their stakeholders within and outside the company.
Making the Move to Team Lead
With their bottomless willingness to work harder, learn more and take on more responsibility, team leads are an incredibly important role in software development. If you feel that constant development—both technical and interpersonal—is the right course of action for you, then consider becoming a team lead.
Paulina Gatkowska, test automation lead and Robert Musil, Python team lead at STX Next contributed to this article.