Chapter 3. Tech Lead

I became a tech lead many years ago. I had been promoted to senior engineer, and was working on a small team with several other senior engineers. It was kind of a surprise that I was promoted to tech lead, because I wasn’t the most senior person on the team by either title or years of experience. In retrospect, I had a few advantages. For one, I was more than just a good engineer. I was a good communicator. I could write clear documents, I could give presentations without melting down, and I could talk to people in different teams and different roles and explain what was going on. I was also good at prioritizing. I was eager to push work forward and decide what needed to be done next. Finally, I was willing to pick up the pieces and do what needed to be done to make progress. I think, in the end, this pragmatic urgency was the deciding factor. The tech lead role, after all, is a leadership position, even when it’s not a management position.

I’ve also seen tech leads flounder. One particularly memorable struggle was a person who was an amazing engineer, wrote great code, but hated talking to people and often got distracted by technical details. I watched him go down rabbit hole after rabbit hole, and in the meantime, the product manager took advantage of his absence to railroad the rest of the team into committing to feature delivery that was both poorly designed and way too aggressive. The project was a mess, and what did the tech lead do? He went chasing ...

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