Developer leading teams – team lead/tech lead

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

A few years back, when I used to write beautiful code (at least I thought so), there was always the question on what path I wanted to take in the future — Tech or Management. Like the majority of engineers, I opted for the Tech route and assumed management to be more a hassle and less rewarding.

If you resonate with my previous statement and believe that management is not for you, this article would at least give you a different perspective to this discussion, coming from someone who is doing management now.

Let me start with a short story, one fine afternoon (when going to the office was a thing) my then manager told me that we are going out for a lunch with his manager (let’s call him X) for a discussion. We went to our regular spot for lunch and here’s how the discussion goes —

X: We wanted to talk to you about your current team.

I: Sure, what is it?

X: We need your manager to move to another team and lead that. There’s some important piece of work and we think he can add great value. That leaves your team without a manager. We would like you to lead your current team. What do you think ?

(This came as a minor shock, since I wasn’t prepared for it)

I: If my manager moves to the other team, it would be a loss for us, but I think it can be managed.

X: I actually like your response that “it can be managed”

From here on started my journey of managing and leading teams. As part of this, I attended the in-house training specially designed for employees who wanted to go into management or were early starters. On the first day of the training, the educator said something that has stuck with me for life. He said:

Management is a skill, that you can learn. Not everyone is born with it, but with time you can acquire the skills to be successful

When we think about management, we assume that you have to be a born leader, someone who can inspire people like Steve Jobs, Satya Nadella, Elon Musk, and many more. Yes, there are those, for whom management/leadership comes easy but the majority are the ones who have learned it like any other skill.

I have had numerous discussions with members of my team about their career plans. Only 5% of them have ever shown interest in leading teams, but they are still evaluating if they want to really do this. After talking to many people on this, I have collated some of the responses that I get when I ask them why they are not interested in management.

  • I have done this before and it was such a bad experience that I am not eager to do it again
  • I really like to write code, design solutions, and architect solutions. I don’t want to go completely hands-off
  • Too much stress for a small monetary benefit
  • It’s too hard to get things done by someone
  • Too much politics involved in managing teams
  • I want to remain an Individual Contributor (IC)

When I dig deeper, I realized that the justification for not going for management is pretty solid and it’s really difficult to explain why management is not as bad as it seems. On introspection, I think the real issues are —

  • FOMO — You will not be part of the group anymore. That means colleagues that were your friends are now reporting to you.
  • No punching bag — You can’t complain to anyone. You are the management now.
  • Self-doubt — What if I don’t succeed? What will people think, if I am unable to deliver or lead?
  • Comfort Zone — I am a superstar developer now, but would become management fresher. I would need to skill up early and quickly.
  • No Idea — I don’t know what it means to lead a time. Haven’t got a taste of it.

I am sure there are many more such issues that repel most IT professionals to take the management tollway and remain on the technical freeway. Looking at this there’s no logical reason for someone to move to leadership roles, yet we see many people who have taken this path.

So, why would someone take the tollway — leaving their position at the top of the technical ladder and start from the lowest tier of management?

Do you think it is by chance or by choice?

For some, it is by chance, and for some by choice. It does not matter how you ended up leading teams, what matters is do you continue on the path or go back to being ICs. Just to be clear there’s nothing wrong with being an IC or leading teams as long as you enjoy what you do, get challenged, and learn something every day.

This article is just a perspective for people evaluating both options. Alright, we have talked about the perceptions, let’s talk about the reality.

  • Yes, you will not be part of the group anymore. However, you would have a new group of leaders/peers who would support you on this journey. Most importantly your direct managers would set you up for success.
  • Don’t worry you can still complain. But you would now have the power to make things right. As a leader of your team, you are responsible for their health and safety. That means raising concerns if any, with your peers and leaders to create the best atmosphere for teams to thrive.
  • It is ok to have a little bit of self-doubt. This would push you to learn new skills and find solutions to unique problems. I can assure you that sometimes writing code would feel a cakewalk as compared to solving employee issues. As a new manager, nobody expects you to know everything, but if you have the right attitude you will figure it out.
  • You can be seconded to a leadership position, to have a stab at it. Don’t ever think twice, just do it. There’s nothing to lose and you would end up learning a new skill.
  • You still get a chance to be hands-on. It won’t be 100%, but still reasonable enough to be in touch with technology. Its easier to lead tech teams when you have a similar background.

There are many more faces to being a manager. But more importantly, you get much more in return. The satisfaction when your team delivers or when someone from your team goes the extra mile when you mentor someone and they are able to go to the next level in their career when you bring a change in the team culture and set a high bar for all, can’t be described in words. Yes, there are times when it’s not all rosy and you have to make difficult decisions or face complex situations but these are all opportunities to learn and grow. Just remember your journey from a fresher to a star developer, it doesn’t happen in a day but takes constant effort and perseverance, so is leadership, the skills you need might be different but nothing that you can’t learn.

I have tried to portray a different side of being a manager. There are no wrong choices or things that you can’t do.

If you can or have the opportunity to try out management, give it a serious thought and have a crack at it — you never know, you might become a top-notch leader. Don’t forget Leadership, Management is a skill that can be learned and polished with time.

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