What have you learned about being a tech lead so far? (No. 76)

Let's explore one tech lead's hard won insights

Hey tech leads!

I’ve got news for you: IT’S FRIDAY!! You made it tech leads. And by the time most of you read this, you’ll be done for the week (hopefully you’re not logging on for the weekend).

The theme of today’s letter lines up with the post I’m sharing with you today, and it’s perfect for the end of the week: if you were going to share what you’ve learned about tech leadership so far, what would you say?


Let’s dive into one tech lead’s learnings so far

Today I’m going to keep it short and review a fantastic post from Jeremy Gimbel. It’s Five Things I’ve Learned About Tech Leadership.

He opens with an absolutely spot on observation:

the jump from individual contributor to tech leader isn’t always smooth. The two roles have some crossover in skills, but each also requires its own unique set of skills to get the job done as well.

Then he proceeds to share his story about his shift from individual contributor to a full blown tech lead role. He shares the following key takeaways or, as I’m calling them, insights. I want to highlight three of them.

Insight No. 1: “Leadership isn’t about control”

In short, being a tech lead isn’t about “being the boss and calling the shots.” 🏅

Instead, “tech leadership is about casting a vision for a future state . . . and helping others on your team get there” Vision crafting tech leads! And also tracking and adjusting. He hit like 50% of the FOUR CORE with that one sentence.

On tracking and adjusting (my description, not his), he says:

It’s not about micromanaging the details or doing it yourself but helping to guide others’ processes so they can end up where you’d have ended up had you done it yourself.

There’s a lot to unpack there, so maybe you should read it again. I’m 100% with the first part, I’m not 100% with the second half. I think your team can reach results different from what you hoped and even possibly differently than you would, and in most instances that’s ok, as long as the team is accomplishing the vision and is motivated by it.

Then he turns his attention to the concept of impact. (Yay. Impact!) He seems to say that, of course, we all want to try to stay hands on and control everything, but:

at the end of the day, you’ll always be limited by the constraint of time. When you’ve got a lot of experience, being a tech leader allows you to increase your own impact and output by helping others be more effective.

Love it! ❤️

Insight No. 2: “Unblock at all costs”

What follows in his next observation surely comes from hard won, in the trenches insights.

Anyone who has done any significant amount of programming work knows that it’s easy to get lost in a problem, spending precious time going down a rabbit trail of debugging. Without coming up for air, it gets frustrating and demoralizing — and ends up wasting a lot of time.

This is what tracking and adjusting is for.

On tracking, he says we need to “recognize the signs of a developer spinning their wheels.” Here are some tracking questions he suggests to zero in on these possible rabbit hole situations:

  • Are your developers asking lots of questions that seem disconnected to the vision or mission or aren’t showing progress? 

  • Are they showing signs of frustration? 

  • Are their status updates or commit messages vague and don’t seem to be moving forward?

That’s the tracking part—you’ve got to spot these situations first. Now let’s see what he says about having those difficult adjustment conversations.

He doesn’t hesitate. He says, “It’s time to jump in.” 💪

But most importantly, and it’s such a key insight, he says, “remember you’re there to unblock, not fix the problem.” SPOT ON. 🤠

This is super insightful. In the corporate world today we talk a lot about coaching. But effective coaching isn’t about fixing problems. Coaching is about coaching the person. Coach the person, not the problem. 

And our writer says exactly that. He says, “I usually tackle this [situation] by asking a series of questions. Even if I know the solution immediately, I like to guide the developer through my logic of diagnosing the issue. I hope to help them not only solve their issue but also learn from it for the future.”

Insight No. 3: Communicate confidence

He says that your job is to “exude confidence” to other folks in the organization. Again, I think this is the kind of insight that comes only from experience, so let’s talk about.

Projecting a solid image to people outside your team is definitely valuable and even necessary in some companies. I’m not sure I’m on board with this wholesale, however. Still, the headline was awesome.

My concern is that I think you shouldn’t try to exude false confidence. (Trust me, I know there are some contexts where that seems like it’s important. Late on a Friday afternoon after a long week, I just want to pretend those places don’t exist.)

I think the author is trying to tap into an important quality of impactful tech leads, however. He raises a quality I don’t talk a lot about because I think it’s not key to your day to day leadership until you start reaching higher levels.

This quality is an advanced, but foundational, habit of higher level, super impactful leaders: they exude optimism and hope.

There’s a quote I lost somewhere that the most important role of a leader is to create hope. With hope there’s motivation for a brighter future. With hope you can motivation and momentum. With hope you can take that motivation, momentum, and create success. 

If you can do it—go for it tech leads! Consider adding it to your backlog of stuff to work on.

He’s got two other key points too, such as don’t overlook project details like budgets and timelines. 

And also don’t try to be a hero. He says, “As a tech lead, your most important job is to be an enabler. Your role is to help the developers get their jobs done. It’s a big shift for those coming from a role where they contribute as a developer, but the shift can be so rewarding.”

If you want to hear the podcast version of this, here it is. 🎧

Have a great weekend tech leads!

-michael


Thanks for reading!

The Tech Lead Coaching email list and podcast are written and recorded by Michael Rice to bring more clarity, certainty, and confidence to my tech leads.

Tips? Have something you’d like me to cover or someone you want to me talk to? Drop me an email to me@michaelrice.com. Hope you will.

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Published from sunny Los Angeles. 🌴☀️

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