From Software Developer to Team Leader

By Robert Musił (JavaScript Team Lead), Paulina Gatkowska (Test Automation Lead) and Rafał Gatkowski (Python Team Lead) (from STX Next) answer the common questions software developers ask about becoming a team lead.

After working in the role for some time, software developers may be led to wonder what career opportunities await them beyond coding. Certainly, taking the next step is not obligatory. Some people feel comfortable remaining developers for the rest of their professional careers.

However, for those who wish to explore other options, there are a fair few different growth paths to choose from—whether it’s working as a Solution Architect, a Scrum Master, or a Product Owner.

On that list of options to consider, you’ll also find the team lead – considered by many to be a position that is a culmination of long-time efforts, passion, and dedication as an IT specialist. But is being a team lead really such a satisfying and reputable job that an ambitious developer should consider?

What makes a great team leader?

Unlike developers who usually work on a specific aspect of the project at one time and communicate mainly with other developers, team leads are focused on collaborating with the whole team. They also spend far less time dealing with technical issues. A team lead, as the name of the position suggests, is a leader, representative, and manager of the team, whose responsibilities involve communicating with both the team members and stakeholders within and outside the company.

A team lead is the first person one would go to when a problem occurs and the first person you expect to suggest a solution to it. Bug fixing, suggestions which library to use, or thoughts on how to approach a specific code-related problem—these are the team leads’ speciality topics, since their technical knowledge and experience are exactly what makes them leaders.

Why team leads are the ‘go to’ point of contact

If you want to improve an application or a test, the team lead is the person to talk to about it. Team leads always try to explain why something works and something else doesn’t, and why it may be a good idea to do X instead of Y.

This doesn’t mean, however, that team leads are all-knowing. Asking more experienced developers to explain something to other team members is something a team lead may do without fear of losing their authority. They should also be open to other people’s suggestions and welcome refreshing ideas.

In addition, team leads are the ones who think about a project as a whole, including the people who are working on it. They tell you what to pay attention to while making improvements, share best practices, take care of code infrastructure and project architecture.

When to make the step up

It seems obvious that knowledge, passion, and communication skills are all things that ultimately make a team lead. It almost never happens overnight – passing through various stages on the way and getting experience as a senior first may prove useful or even necessary to reach the level at which leaders may offer their guidance and expertise to the team.

Sometimes becoming a team lead is a natural consequence of the way the individual works. The team is beginning to notice the individual’s knowledge and engagement, and that’s how to start leading the others, showing the direction. However, a team lead is normally someone who emerges in a project rather spontaneously.

To a regular developer, transformation into a team lead may seem like getting thrown in at the deep end. It doesn’t mean, however, that there’s nothing they’re already skilled at that will be useful for a team lead.

For instance, take attention to detail – something most developers are known for. Analysing and improving your code relentlessly and endlessly may seem frustrating, especially to others, but the very meticulousness that tells you to do that is likely to come in handy in a team leader’s work.

The importance of soft skills

If true passion, hard work, and conscientiousness are the keys to becoming a successful team lead, it goes without saying that only the strongest survive – and those who enjoy working with other people.

A team leader’s job also makes you use language and people skills more than ever before. Collaborating with stakeholders within and outside the company, along with the members of your own team means you’re no longer a mere cog in the machine, but a central figure in the process. Being tech-savvy is great, but leading a team goes far beyond that, since it’s about both knowing things and communicating them.

Using English for coding purposes and communicating in English are two different things. As a team lead, you must talk to your clients and team members, and be able to solve conflicts. Of course, you develop your language skills as you go when you’re a team lead, helping with confidence and fluency.

Knowledge of various technologies, frameworks, and functionalities; experience in working with them; finding ways to change and improve things – all of these give team leads a good reason to talk, supervise projects, and advise their stakeholders within and outside the company.

Being a team lead is certainly rewarding, but the amount of responsibility one must take is much bigger and they’ll be sure to have more work than ever before.

Do what feels right for you

With their bottomless willingness to work harder, learn more, and take on more responsibility, team leads may come across as icons that not every developer would like to trade places with.

However, if you feel that constant development – both technical and interpersonal – is the only right course of action for you, then the path toward becoming a team lead is one that you should at least consider.

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