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A Guide to Technical Leads: What They Do and How to Become One

April 2, 2021

At some point in your software development career, you may be ready for additional responsibilities. For experienced software developers who exhibit leadership skills and stay up to date on the latest technology, it may be beneficial to consider pursuing a technical lead position. Becoming a technical lead is a great way to combine your passion for technology with your management skills, and if this career interests you, it is important to understand what it entails.

In this article, we give an overview of working as a technical lead and discuss the steps you can take to become one yourself.

Read more: Learn About Being a Software Developer

What is a technical lead?

A technical lead is a professional who oversees a team of technical personnel at a software or technology company. They often lead software development or software engineering teams and troubleshoot technical issues that involve software development, engineering tasks and product releases.

A technical lead needs to have a great deal of professional experience in software development and a deep understanding of technology, but they should also be personable and capable enough to effectively lead a team and collaborate with others.

Related: How To Become a Successful Team Leader

What does a technical lead do?

A technical lead is responsible for the following tasks:

  • Hiring and training technical personnel
  • Delegating work and assignments to team members
  • Collaborating with their team to identify and fix technical problems
  • Analyzing users' needs and then finding applications to serve them
  • Creating end goals for their team
  • Checking that software and applications are updated
  • Supervising system modifications
  • Conducting security audits to identify areas of improvement
  • Guiding their team through technical issues and challenges

Related: Learn About The Information Technology Field

Technical lead salary

The average salary for a technical lead in the United States is $111,169 per year. However, their salary may vary based on their experience and geographical location. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for computer and information systems managers, which are comparable to technical leads, is expected to grow by 11% between 2018 and 2028. This rate of growth is higher than average and is largely due to more businesses using digital platforms.

Technical lead vs. engineering manager

When deciding whether to become a technical lead or an engineering manager, it is important to consider the differences between the roles. While professionals in both positions need to have strong leadership and software development skills, the main difference is that a technical lead is more focused on technology than people management.

A technical lead is responsible for helping their team members with the technical aspects of their jobs, such as coding and programming. They may also explain new projects to their team and troubleshoot any problems that occur. In comparison, an engineering manager is more focused on managing their employees. They are responsible for business growth and team deadlines, among other things, and they typically serve as their team's representative to the rest of the company.

As an engineering manager, you need to have excellent people management skills and be able to assess your team's long-term goals, while you are more likely to work hands-on and focus on day-to-day tasks as a technical lead.

How to become a technical lead

If you are considering pursuing a career as a technical lead, here are some steps you should follow:

  1. Earn a bachelor's degree.
  2. Pursue certification.
  3. Develop essential skills.
  4. Gain professional experience.

1. Earn a bachelor's degree

Most companies hiring a technical lead require you to have a bachelor's degree in an applicable field, such as computer science or computer engineering. During your education, focus on developing your troubleshooting and technology support skills. You can do this by joining relevant student organizations, such as ones that focus on computer science careers. You could also look for an internship in a technical industry to gain experience and knowledge in a real job setting while you complete your degree.

Related: 15 Computer Science Jobs That Pay Well

2. Pursue certification

Set yourself apart from other job candidates by earning certifications in your field. One certificate that may improve your chances of being hired for a leadership position like this one is the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification offered by the Project Management Institute. When you apply for the PMP certification, you must meet one of two sets of qualifications.

If you have a bachelor's degree, these qualifications may best match your own:

  • A four-year degree
  • Three years of project management experience
  • 35 hours of project management training/education or a Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) certification

In comparison, if you favored experience over education, this may be the better option for you:

  • A high school diploma or an associate degree
  • Five years of project management experience
  • 35 hours of project management training/education or a Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) certification

After meeting these requirements, you must pass the PMP exam to become a certified Project Management Professional. Maintain your certification over time by completing the program's continuing education requirements.

3. Develop essential skills

During your educational and professional experience, work on developing your skillset for this job. Here are some skills that can help you become a more qualified technical lead:

Technical skills

A technical lead needs to have strong technical abilities, such as programming and working with mobile or website systems, security principles and shell script. Learn as much as you can about software development and computer engineering. By establishing these skills, you can become better at troubleshooting and fixing technical problems.

Leadership

You should also have impressive leadership skills to motivate and guide your team members. As a technical lead, it is your job to ensure everyone remains productive and gets projects done on time.

Communication

Much of your job as a technical lead is offering support and guidance to your team, so it's important to be able to give clear instructions and set expectations. With effective written and verbal communication, you can ensure that your team understands their responsibilities.

Multitasking

Employers want a technical lead who can manage many projects at once while still meeting deadlines and presenting innovative products. Focus on improving your decision-making and organizational abilities to help you effectively manage your workload.

Read more: Technical Skills: Definitions and Examples

4. Gain professional experience

Most employers look for technical leads who have experience working in software development or other careers related to computer science. To gain this experience, you can either work your way up within a company to become a technical lead or gain work experience at one organization and then apply for a technical lead position elsewhere. Here are a few common jobs you can pursue that may help you acquire a position as a technical lead later on:

  • Software developer
  • Software engineer
  • Programmer

If you want to advance your career within your current company, show your employer that you are ready to pursue a new role by volunteering for additional tasks and responsibilities at work. Offer to take on a new project, and demonstrate that you can effectively complete tasks independently while also helping others as needed. Look for ways you can solve problems and present innovative solutions and strategies to your team. By finding ways to stand out among your colleagues, you can show your employer that you are the most qualified person for this leadership role.

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