Understand technical leadership and boost your career

I will tell you a word, and you think of the first image that comes to your mind. Are you ready? Leader!

If you have thought of a white man, dressed in a perfectly fitting suit, you have thought about what most people think when they hear that word. But is that all there is for this word? Apart from the unconscious bias of race and gender, does it define leaders’ characteristics?

If we check the word ‘leader in the dictionary, we find: “a person who guides or directs a group”. That definition is so straightforward and clear that we often don’t question what makes a great technical leader. This article will dive deep into the requirements to become a great technical leader. We will understand the similarities and differences to non-tech leadership, and I hope this can guide you in your career.

The first pillar: Teamwork

Technical leadership doesn’t exist isolated; some other type of leadership always accompanies it.

An abundance of developers thinks their managers are obsolete dinosaurs who don’t know how to write a single code line. Yes, they may be right in some cases, but that doesn’t mean their managers cannot execute the tasks at hand. Let me explain!

The most important organizational factor for a company is to make sure they never lose sight of strategic decisions. The bigger the company, the more substantial the term ‘strategy’ becomes. Enterprise strategy is the only way companies can guarantee employees are walking in the same direction and working for the same goals. Once the top management team decides which will be their primary goals, they are passed down to every team hierarchically, ensuring it reaches every single soul.

Managers are responsible for making sure their segment of the company is under control strategically, but not tactically, and there is where technical leadership shines. The fundamental responsibility of tech leadership roles is to make sure the manager’s strategic definitions are going in the right direction and that projects are executed correctly without hurting any of the premises defined by the board of directors.

The quintessence of technical leadership success is to work with your business partners as if you were a single entity in this universe. If you don’t do that, you will be doomed, I promise.

The second pillar: Knowledge

You have become a technical leader. Congratulations! This promotion means you are a ‘knowledge reference’ to your peers. While this may seem counter-intuitive, it means you now have way more pressure to keep yourself updated on computer science’s latest trends.

Let’s be sincere and frank here: people become more suspicious of you when you cannot clarify their doubts and help them solve their difficulties. There will be times where you will be challenged by developers both directly and indirectly, as they will try to check your boundaries and understand if you’re ready for that position. If you can answer those provocations politely and with strong fundamentals, you succeed at gaining developers’ trust.

Answer challenges appropriately and remember that if you respond in a non-polite way, you fail. You fail both because you have misbehaved and because you are there to support people. It is OK not to know things, make sure you write it down and be ready for answering the question the next day. Never say phrases such as: “Oh, you don’t know that? What a shame! Let me show you how to do that right”, that is typical of lousy knowledge leadership.

Never doubt your authority, but make sure you recognize your ignorance. Keep working on what you don’t know in a planned and organized fashion. Technology evolves fast, and without study planning, you will get obsolete fast too.

Another critical point is that technical leadership implies that you will have to coach and help your peers think about problems in new ways. But to delve into how to do that, we need to talk about the next pillar: communication.

Read about the other pillars

If you want to read the rest of this article, I invite you to read it on my personal website. There you’ll find the full article:

Thank you for reading!

Amazonian • Hacker • Former CTO at InvestPro • Cloud solutions expert • Enterprise Architect • Loves his wife, family and maths.