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7 Skills Every Tech Lead Needs to Drive Success and Innovation

Forward-looking companies are making technical leadership a priority. Here are seven essential skills to look for in a technical lead.

6 Min Read
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By Yash Dave

As technology, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and the internet of things (IoT), continues to evolve and play a more significant role in business, organizations are discovering the importance of investing in technical leadership to provide a solid foundation for growth and innovation. When tech leads (TLs) are valued and provided with the resources and support they need to succeed, they can optimize their team's efficacy to ensure the efforts are channeled in the right direction to foster new growth and innovation. The key is finding TLs with the proper knowledge and skills to lead a company into the future.

To establish effective tech leadership, it's essential that companies understand what skills to look for when recruiting TLs and learn how to build a culture to develop them. Attracting, investing in, and nurturing tech leadership mean surrounding these critical employees with an environment that allows them to flourish. By implementing inclusive processes, providing dedicated time for exploratory projects, establishing forums for open discussions, and establishing a healthy feedback loop, companies can ensure they have the guidance needed to grow and prosper.

Why Good Tech Leadership Is Essential

Technology is growing exponentially. Computer power and speed have doubled approximately every two years for the past 50 years. Deloitte reports that among Fortune 500 companies, pursuing the right digital transformation actions can unlock as much as $1.25 trillion in additional market capitalization, while following the wrong actions can have a negative impact as high as $1.5 trillion. This technological growth has made exceptional technical leadership essential to business success.

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TLs with the proper knowledge and skills can be counted on to set the best direction for a project or product and guide appropriate technical utilization that improves tracking, streamlines processes, and reduces costs. They drive innovation that pushes companies forward, resulting in greater visibility and growth. On the other hand, substandard tech leadership puts companies at risk of being left behind in the advancing marketplace. That's why forward-looking companies are making technical leadership a priority.

One powerful example that shows the impact a TL can have on a project is Jeff Dean's involvement in Google's development of the TensorFlow framework, an open-source machine learning library. Dean provided the technical vision for TensorFlow and was instrumental in creating a flexible and scalable platform. Ultimately, he helped lead Google's team to develop a robust and efficient computational graph framework that enables users to efficiently define and execute machine learning models across various hardware platforms. In large part to Dean's efforts, TensorFlow pushed machine learning research and experimentation significantly forward. 

How to Find Great TLs

TLs are typically found between the executive teams (chief technology officer, CEO, or other senior leadership) and software engineers on a company's organizational chart. They are responsible for providing a team with strong technical philosophies and practices so that the company gets maximum benefits from its technology. In addition to technical prowess, the most effective TLs also have the following essential skills:

  1. Risk management. Innovation inherently involves risk. Effective TLs understand this and know how to assess and mitigate risk while encouraging experimentation and creativity.

  2. Strategic thinking. Effective TLs look beyond short-term implications and consider the long-term impact of their decisions. They quickly identify market trends and emerging opportunities and plan how to best take advantage of them.

  3. Communication and conflict resolution. It's vital for TLs to be able to explain complex concepts and new technology so that team members understand and are excited about using it. The best TLs also know how to handle team member disagreements and maintain a cohesive team.

  4. Open-mindedness. Effective TLs possess a strong desire to keep abreast of cutting-edge technology. This helps their organizations implement innovations quickly and stay ahead of the competition.

  5. Adaptability. TLs can't afford to be stuck in their ways as what worked one month may be out-of-date and inefficient a few months later. Effective TLs weigh the benefits of new advancements against increased costs and lengthened timelines to confirm that their company has the best, most cost-effective solutions.

  6. Resoluteness. Projects rarely go seamlessly from start to finish. Unexpected challenges that put cost, timeline, and other pressures on those involved are more likely to arise. Successful TLs quickly address technological roadblocks so that staff feel supported, and work remains on schedule.

  7. Collaboration. Effective networking and coordination with different cross-functional teams are crucial TL tasks. This ability to work together keeps team members focused and eliminates departmental silos that create costly inefficiencies.

How to Nurture Effective TLs

Hiring great TLs is an essential first step, but it is also vital to build an environment that fosters and supports them. This can also help companies develop new leaders from within, which strengthens organizations and reduces their recruiting costs.

Companies can build an environment that helps their TLs excel by defining the TL's role, including assigning them specific responsibilities and technology area ownership and providing them with the independence to execute their job. They can establish forums where TLs demonstrate that they are the go-to person for technology areas by conducting tech discussions, design reviews, and more, and allow them to communicate directly with stakeholders that they are the point-of-contacts for specific technology areas.

It's also vital to provide opportunities for TLs to try exploratory projects by organizing "hackathons" and demonstrating appreciation by promoting the value TLs bring to the organization.

Getting Supreme Value from TLs

Today's world is driven by technological advancement. Companies that promote TL development by providing them with independence, respect, and the right processes will put talented individuals in leadership positions to help ensure technology is utilized optimally. This results in faster project decision-making, reduced technical debt, and more effective and efficient solutions. As Steve Jobs said, "Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower." Companies with talented, well-supported TLs are more likely to find themselves with a distinct advantage and on the cutting-edge of innovation with teams aligned to a particular vision and dedicated to making important decisions a reality.

About the Author:

Yash Dave is a tech lead and staff software engineer who has been involved in initiatives that have reached over three billion devices. He has 17 years of professional experience in mobile app development, which includes Android, UI development, cross-device services, app management, and app installs. Yash holds a Master of Science degree in computer engineering from the University of Florida. For more information, contact [email protected].

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