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17 June 2023 - 9 minutes

What is a Tech Lead? Responsibilities, Skills, and Career Path

Let’s fight some common misconceptions about a key member in the software development team.

Juliette Carreiro - Tech Writer

Do you aspire to be your software team's go-to expert for technical questions? Want to become a leader in your department? Excited about leveraging new technologies to drive innovation? If so, the role of a tech lead might be perfect for you.

According to a recent survey by Stack Overflow, 65% of developers aspire to move into leadership roles within their career. If this is you, you're in the right place! In this article, we’ll explore the responsibilities and requirements of a tech lead to help you determine if it’s the right fit for you.

What Is a Tech Lead? 

By looking at the term “tech lead,” we can gather two things: they work in both a technical capacity and a leadership position. So then, what do they do? A technical lead – or tech lead for short – oversees the technical aspects of a software team by making architectural and design decisions, guiding team members in technical matters, and supervising system modifications. Some key job responsibilities of a tech lead include: 

  • Establishing project specifications and technical direction 

  • Creating a framework of technical standards and procedures  

  • Overseeing software quality and system modifications 

  • Guiding team members with troubleshooting technical issues

  • Analyzing existing operations to identify risks and redundancies 

  • Conducting comprehensive assessments to develop solutions 

In other words, as a tech lead, you’re basically setting the technical direction of the project and clearing the way of any programming hurdles that may arise, whether it be closing technical knowledge gaps, finding answers to product questions, or streamlining existing operations. 

As a tech lead, you'll engineer, guide, and implement technical solutions and improvements with the help of your software development team. You can get your hands dirty and do some coding once in a while, but that isn’t your main job responsibility. 

So, if you’re someone who enjoys both the technical and interpersonal aspects of software development, a tech lead may be the job for you.  

Is a Tech Lead a Manager?

Wondering if a tech lead is a manager? It's a common question! While there are some shared duties, these roles are quite different. A tech lead is your go-to guide for steering the technical direction of the team, making key architectural calls, and mentoring teammates on all things tech. Unlike managers, tech leads aren't bogged down with admin tasks like performance reviews, budgeting, or resource juggling. Instead, they serve as the bridge between the tech crew and management, ensuring the project's technical needs are met while supporting the team's growth. So, while tech leads do have leadership roles, they don't dive into the broader management duties a traditional manager handles.

Is Tech Lead a High Position?

Absolutely, being a tech lead is a fantastic and respected role in any software team. As the go-to person for the team's technical success, a tech lead carries significant responsibility that directly impacts the project's outcome. This role demands a solid grasp of advanced technical concepts and effective leadership skills. While it doesn’t come with the traditional managerial pressures, its influence on the team’s performance, project direction, and innovation is huge. So, being a tech lead means not just having impressive technical skills but also earning respect and recognition within the company.

For many, stepping into a tech lead role feels like a big leap up the career ladder. It sets a strong foundation for future growth into senior leadership positions like engineering manager or CTO.

Who Do Tech Leads Work With?

Together with team leads and product owners, tech leads play a leadership role in a software or engineering department; each leader focuses on a different aspect of the production process. A product owner will focus on overall product development and a team lead will focus on people development; a tech lead focuses on technical development. 

Together, they set the project’s direction and guide the team members to ensure the project’s deliverables are fulfilled. Some essential members of the software development team include: 

  • Product Owner: leads product development to fulfill client’s requirements 

  • Team Lead/ Engineering Manager: guides team through development process  

  • Project Manager: oversees the development, organization, and delivery of a product 

  • Software Developer: designs and develops software to fit the users’ needs 

  • Quality Assurance Engineer: confirms developed solution fits specifications  

  • Software Tester: executes tests to ensure solutions fit performance and security demands 

  • UX/UI Designer: designs features to enhance customer experience and interaction

A software team works together to ensure the smooth delivery of a product. As a tech lead, you must be able to balance priorities, communicate clear goals, and make apt decisions, all while taking into account your team’s capabilities and the product’s deliverables. Since each position on the team has some involvement in the technical operation, you must make sure that each team member has a handle on their portion of the software development process to ensure the delivered product meets the client’s expectations. 

A Typical Day-in-the-Life

A day in the life of a Tech Lead is a dynamic blend of technical challenges, leadership responsibilities, and collaborative efforts. It kicks off with a morning stand-up meeting, syncing with the team to discuss progress, tackle roadblocks, and plan the day ahead. Next up, the Tech Lead dives into code reviews, offering feedback and ensuring the codebase stays top-notch.

Throughout the day, they're in the thick of architectural discussions, designing new features, and integrating cutting-edge technologies to supercharge the product. Meetings with product managers, designers, and other stakeholders are part of the norm, translating business needs into tech solutions.

Mentoring junior developers is a key aspect, providing guidance and support to help them thrive within the team. As the day wraps up, the Tech Lead shifts focus to strategic planning, assessing future tech stack needs, and gearing up for upcoming projects to ensure the team is aligned and ready to conquer the next challenge.

Average Salaries in Europe in 2024

Let's talk compensation! If you're a tech lead in Europe, you're in for some pretty sweet rewards. Tech leads here enjoy competitive salaries that truly reflect their crucial role in the software development world. Typically, you can expect to earn between €60,000 and €90,000 annually, but this can vary based on your country, industry, and experience level. For instance, if you're in Germany, Switzerland, or the UK, you might even see figures exceeding €100,000 per year!

These differences come down to factors like the cost of living, demand for tech talent, and how advanced the tech industry is in each country. Plus, let's not forget those attractive benefits and bonuses that often come with the job, adding even more to the overall financial perks.

In a nutshell, tech leads in Europe are not just well-compensated—they're also well-supported, respected, and encouraged to grow.

Check out: Average Tech Salaries Across Europe

What Skills Do You Need? 

A tech lead can be considered a leader, developer, and architect all in one, which defines their essential skill set:

  • As a leader, they supervise team members, delegate tasks, issue feedback, evaluate risks, and resolve conflicts. 

  • As a developer, they apply programming tools, utilize design patterns, perform automated testing, and refactor code. 

  • As an architect, they perform technical assessments, oversee development lifecycles, direct release management, and adhere to federal regulations. 

As you can see, tech leads must not only have the technical expertise to develop products, but have the people skills to lead teams as well. Some crucial skills of a tech lead include: 

  • Communication and leadership 

  • Project and crisis management 

  • Software architecture and systems testing 

  • Technical guidance and decision-making skills

  • Quality assurance 

  • Problem solving and innovation 

  • Ownership and vision 

How Can I Become a Tech Lead?

You can develop these skills by gaining professional experience along with taking technical and leadership courses. A tech lead isn’t an entry level role; starting off, tech leads often have 5+ years of experience in the field and a bachelor’s degree. But remember, a tech lead also isn’t just a senior software engineer: just focusing on programming knowledge is not going to get you there, you need to build interpersonal skills as well. 

So, how can you do that? Well:

  • You can apply some professional approaches, such as supporting coworkers, providing technical advice, suggesting new initiatives, creating innovative solutions, and requesting performance-based feedback, to show your resourcefulness while developing new skills. 

  • You can use some administrative tools, such as a strengths and weaknesses chart, a professional development plan, and a goal breakdown, to guide your learning and development while focusing on the professional skills you need to reinforce. 

With a proper plan of attack, you can be well on your way to becoming a tech lead. As you know, the job title has the term “lead” in it, which means it’s considered a senior role – but still a great target position. Since tech leads are considered to be both technical experts and competent supervisors, you’ll need a decent amount of experience first. 

Tips for the Job Hunt

Embarking on the job hunt for a tech lead position might seem like a big adventure, but with the right approach, you can make the journey smoother and even enjoyable. Here are some friendly tips to set you on the right path:

  1. Tailor Your Resume and Cover Letter: Highlight your technical skills and leadership capabilities. Customize each application to reflect the specific job requirements.

  2. Network, Network, Network: Connect with professionals on LinkedIn, attend tech meetups and conferences, and join online communities. Networking can open doors to hidden opportunities.

  3. Showcase Your Skills on GitHub: A well-maintained GitHub repo can display your coding skills, contributions to open-source projects, and your ability to collaborate.

  4. Prepare for Technical Interviews: Brush up on algorithms, data structures, system design, and coding best practices. Websites like LeetCode, HackerRank, and Cracking the Coding Interview can be lifesavers.

  5. Demonstrate Leadership and Communication: Be ready to share your experiences in leading teams, managing projects, resolving conflicts, and making critical decisions. These soft skills are just as crucial as your technical chops.

  6. Research the Company: Learn about the company’s tech stack, projects, culture, and values. Tailor your application to align with the company's goals for a significant impact.

When targeting giants like Google, specific skills and attributes can make you stand out:

  • Technical Expertise: Proficiency in languages like Python, Java, C++, or Go; experience with cloud platforms like Google Cloud; and a deep understanding of algorithms and data structures.

  • Leadership Skills: Proven experience in leading technical teams, managing projects, and mentoring junior developers.

  • Problem-solving Abilities: A knack for innovative solutions to complex problems and the ability to think critically under pressure.

  • Interpersonal and Communication Skills: The ability to explain technical concepts to non-technical folks and collaborate effectively with diverse teams.

  • Continuous Learning: A demonstrated eagerness to learn new technologies and stay updated with industry trends.

  • Cultural Fit: Alignment with Google’s values of innovation, collaboration, and a user-first mentality.

By focusing on these tips and showcasing these sought-after skills, you'll be well on your way to securing that rewarding tech lead position.

As AI becomes more of a staple in many companies' tech stacks, you can give yourself a competitive edge by picking up basic AI skills. Whether you're curious or unconvinced, here's an introductory talk from our CEO, Ariel Quinones. It's everything you've ever wanted to ask about AI!

Author: Juliette Carreiro

Juliette Carreiro is a professional tech writer for Ironhack, covering everything from career advice to tech news.

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