The question “how technically hands-on should I be as a team leader?” comes up frequently in my conversations with engineering leads. The short answer is: “definitely to some extent”, but for a more specific answer we need to consider context, your individual team makeup, and your goals as a leader.

Remaining technical is essential

Let’s begin by acknowledging that engineering leadership is a technical role. You are responsible for supporting software engineers who do technical work, for helping to shape the team’s technical vision, and for making strategic technical decisions. …

When someone leaves our team, it’s natural for us as leaders to focus on the immediate practical implications e.g. we’re losing our Python expert, the team’s velocity will reduce by 10 story points, or hitting the next milestone for project X is in doubt. These things are important, but they are far from the complete picture of how this individual’s leaving impacts the team. …

A common question for new or aspiring team leaders is, “how do I lead someone who is more experienced than me?”. “More experienced” can mean different things here: someone with longer tenure as an engineer, someone who has led engineering teams in the past, someone who is older than you, or some combination of all 3.

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Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

This is a question I can relate to a lot. I moved into a team leader role relatively early in my career, after 3 years as a software engineer. One of my biggest concerns was my ability to lead people who were more experienced than me. Most of my experiences up to that point were of mentoring less experienced engineers (new grads, interns, etc) — I had helped to onboard senior engineers, but never to the point of leading them. …


Mark Wood

Engineering leader at Bloomberg. All opinions are my own.

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