Adventures of a Tech Lead IV

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At Intersect we pride ourselves on delivering quality products quickly. A large part of our success is attributed to the people who lead our project teams. This series takes a look at common scenarios a new or seasoned Tech Lead may encounter.

Wait, what’s a Tech Lead?  

A Tech Lead is an individual who, in addition to being a developer, frequently needs to wear several hats and play a different role during the project lifecycle. Factors such as the nature of the project, the phase of the project, and the project team composition impact the type of hat they may need to wear. A Tech Lead may not be the most senior engineer or the best coder, but in order for them to be successful, they do need to be a good listener and communicator and adapt to changes in a project. They are responsible for the project’s technical delivery and are accountable for guiding the team to the finish line. Being a Tech Lead does not always come with a formal title. It is a role that an engineer can play, which may be temporary due to the state of a project, or spontaneous based on a particular situation. Therefore, Tech Leads may not necessarily have the authority to influence others, or expect a higher paycheque, but leading a project is a tremendous opportunity for personal and professional development. The Tech Lead role can be a way for an individual to gain more recognition within their organization, which may become a stepping stone into management or leadership-oriented roles.

About this series 

Articles in this series feature observations that have been made and shared throughout weekly Tech Lead sessions that we participate in at CoreLogic Intersect: lessons we learned from personal experiences, books we read, or strategies that have worked in the past. You may choose to read this as a guide, some stories of wisdom, or simply as an introduction to your journey as a Tech Lead. Please keep in mind that the role of a Tech Lead may differ from company to company, but there are fundamental responsibilities that are shared amongst everyone.

As Camille Fournier stated in her book The Manager’s Path: “being a tech lead is an exercise in influencing without authority.” How do you sell your team’s idea to other teams, or convince your team to do what needs to be done in order to reach the finish line? It is no easy feat, and how one prepares for this role is critical as the path of the Tech Lead can often be full of surprises and unpredictability.

Scenario IV: I have back-to-back meetings and many interruptions during the day, and I feel like my only option is to work off-hours in order to get any actual work done that moves the project forward. 

With the list of new and additional responsibilities that will fall on your plate as a Tech Lead, you may feel less accomplished when you have not contributed as much code to the codebase as you may be used to. Please keep in mind that the project is a team effort. If there are no delays in the project schedule and you are able to keep your team from having to work any extra time, then as a Tech Lead, you are off to a good start. Do not feel obligated to contribute a set amount of code, and instead view the project holistically. Does the team have enough tasks to work on? What tasks would help increase output of the team? Are code reviews sufficient to stay in context? There are also strategies you can consider implementing if you find yourself in situations where you feel you are short on meaningful working time:

Assess your time

Understand your own cycles to determine your most productive hours during the day and prioritize blocking off those blocks of time on your calendar.

Assess your tools

Assess your tools and see if you can remove unnecessary distractions from knocking you out of context. Turn off notifications temporarily (from Slack, your phone, or emails). If working from the office, find a quiet working space or book a room to work alone.

Seek to delegate certain types of activities, or ask other team members for help

Depending on your team composition and your organization’s particular processes, perhaps you can ask a Project Manager or Business Analyst for help regarding some administrative tasks such as Story Writing and Sprint Planning, and see if you can reduce your participation in those activities to be around to review and assign estimation points only. As long as you are doing something that involves reviewing all of the requirements (the Point Estimation), you can still maintain valuable project context. 

Rely on Senior Engineers to take ownership of certain parts of the application and let yourself scale back on awareness of every small detail of those areas by putting trust in these Engineers. 

Assess any repetitive administrative tasks that you may be able to hand-off with clear instructions (this could have a double-positive effect of giving somebody else an opportunity to take on a new responsibility).

Reorganize your meetings, if possible, to reduce the amount of context switching

Would it be possible to set up meeting days or meeting hours of the week to allow longer uninterrupted hours? Is it possible to switch some weekly meetings to bi-weekly instead? Can a 30-minute meeting become a 15-minute checkpoint meeting instead? Or can the meeting be avoided by posting updates in a Team Messaging System (i.e. Slack, Teams, etc)? 

It is valuable to require meeting agendas, ideally listed in the invite, or they can be considered to be cancelled. You may also want to consider booking some meetings yourself to have better control over your time.

If you are unsure about attending certain meetings, ask in advance if your participation is crucial, and recommend that you sit them out if you feel your time is better off spent elsewhere. 

Just be careful with using this strategy, as some meetings may not appear important, but may end up crucial. You may also ask for meeting notes or video playback if available.

It is extremely valuable to learn to prioritize your time as a Tech Lead. Even though everything may seem urgent or important, learn to make the best use of your valuable time.

Every adventure poses a new set of challenges

Every team and every Tech Lead may have their own set of challenges, so feel free to share your stories with us. More scenarios will be introduced in the upcoming weeks, let us know if there are any particular experiences you would like to read about.