What I've Learned as a New Tech Lead

About a year ago I was promoted from Developer to Tech Lead, and now feels like a good time to take a moment to reflect on what I’ve learned so far. Here are the 3 main things I’ve taken away from my first year in the role:

1. Team productivity > your productivity

One of my biggest shifts in mindset has been the way I think about productivity. In my early days in the role I struggled a bit with the feeling that time spent working on things other than my assigned sprint task was unproductive, but it was my perception of “productivity” that needed to change.

As a Developer my main way of contributing to the team’s output was by writing code. As a Tech Lead I have additional ways to contribute, like removing obstacles and unblocking my teammates. Enabling other developers to remain focused and productive is just as important as making direct code contributions myself, and my personal output in terms of code written is less important than the team’s overall.

It took a while for me to get away from the nagging feeling of “I didn’t write enough code today”, but once I started to focus less on that single metric and take in to account all the other little things I’d done to help others on my team keep delivering, I started to have a better understanding of what it means to be a productive lead.

2. There’s a lot more talking

I’m in a lot more meetings than I used to be, and I enjoy them more than I expected to. I meet regularly with the team’s Product Manager, and we’ve developed an effective dynamic where he provides the overall vision and direction for the product, and I’m responsible for getting it built. I provide technical consultation to help inform product decisions, and I enjoy our discussions about strategy and the roadmap. Once we’ve gotten some of the big picture stuff mapped out for an upcoming feature, we bring the whole team in to begin working out details and plan the work. It’s an arrangement that’s worked well so far, and as a team we’ve delivered great results.

Meetings don’t intuitively feel productive to many developers, but the regular discussions I have with our Product Manager allow the devs to remain focused on building the right thing at the right time, with a good understanding of why we’re doing it. Understanding why you’re building something helps you make better decisions about how you build it.

I enjoy my regular one-to-one chats with the devs on my team. Through these sessions I’ve learned a lot about how each person likes to work, what they find challenging, and how I can support them day to day.

Meeting with other Tech Leads and sharing experiences of how we run our agile ceremonies and refine product work is a good way to tweak our processes as we go. I get a lot of value from many of the regular meetings I now attend as a Tech Lead.

3. Being organised makes it all easier

I found organising my work and structuring my time challenging at first. Context switching is a notorious time sink in software development, and the sudden increase in meetings in my calendar introduced many more context switches than I’d had to manage previously. I found myself in a slightly frustrating way of working that fell somewhere between the maker’s schedule and the manager’s schedule, without fully getting the benefit of either. 2 things helped me minimise the effects of context-switching:

  1. Borderline-obsessive note-taking. Recovering from context switches is much faster if you can quickly skim-read some notes and get back up to speed with what you were working on previously
  2. Scheduling meetings in batches so that my calendar has as many stretches of uninterrupted coding time as possible

With daily and weekly “todo” lists and a carefully-managed calendar, I’ve been much more productive and a lot less stressed about switching between tasks.

Looking Forward

I’ve learned a lot in my first year of tech leadership, and I’ve had the good fortune to work with an incredible team on an exciting product. I’m looking forward to seeing what we’ll achieve together in the next year, and how my role as Tech Lead will continue to evolve.