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Tips for leading a team of developers

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As a development team lead, you have a lot of responsibilities. Not only do you have to keep the technical deliverables on track, you’re also responsible for communication, deadlines, and often project management. It’s a lot to balance, especially if the project is technically challenging as well.

If you’re a newly minted team leader or manager, or just hope to get there one day, the thought of taking on the challenge of a leadership role like this might be intimidating. Many developers can rationally assess their coding skills, but aren’t as good at seeing their value when it comes to other contributions to the workplace. Chances are, if you were promoted within your company, you bring a lot more value than straightforward technical skills.

Our latest podcast talked a lot about mentorship in software and development, so today we thought we’d dig in to some of the best points they brought up about leadership, and how developers can step up as leaders within their company.

1. Get to Know Your Team

If you’ve been promoted internally, chances are you already know your team well. Regardless, it’s still important to get to know your team in your new capacity as their team lead. You may begin to observe new things about their skills and abilities that you didn’t notice when you were their peer.

To be the most effective leader for your team, you should have a good sense of every team member’s abilities, and where there may be weaknesses. This will allow you to make the most effective choices for everything from task assignments to goal setting.

2. Set Clear Expectations

One of the biggest challenges for any developer is dealing with a manager or team lead who is unable to set clear expectations. This makes every aspect of work challenging. If your technical expectations are unclear, developers won’t know how long they should be spending on each task, or when they should be presenting something for your approval. If your work and communication expectations are unclear, it gets even more complicated, especially with so many people now working remotely.

The best way to gain the trust of your new team is to set clear and reasonable expectations. That way, they’ll feel secure knowing exactly what you’re looking for and will be able to budget their time effectively to deliver it.

3. Be Available

Being a manager is a step up in more ways than one. When you’re on the clock – and even sometimes when you’re not! – managers should be available to their team. This doesn’t just mean responding to email and Slack messages in a timely manner. A team lead should be approachable, and make sure that every member of his or her team feels comfortable coming to them for help or support.

With lots of developers working remotely, managers and company leaders have had to work even harder to ensure that they’re available to their team. Being proactive, and touching base with team members often (especially those that don’t reach out to you first) is a great place to start.

4. Balance Programming with Your Other Responsibilities

For many developers and programmers, writing code and working technically is part of their DNA. However, once you become a manager, you’ll probably find that you do a lot less technical work on a daily basis.

Instead, you’ll be focused on overseeing projects, developing big-picture strategies, and evaluating your team’s work. To keep your technical skills sharp when you’re not using them every day, try and stay on top of the most recent technical developments. Many developers enjoy white hat hacking as a way to keep their skills fresh.

5. Be the Right Kind of Gatekeeper

One of the worst types of managers are the ones that make micromanaging and gatekeeping a priority. Demanding to be involved in every change to the code base, or giving yourself the final say in every decision are both key indicators that you might be guilty of this managerial sin.

Micromanagers are often unable to give helpful advice or guidance, and instead insist on being personally involved in every decision. Systems put in place by these managers are incredibly time-consuming and don’t actually empower their team to work independently. Most of the time, these habits and systems exist to validate the manager’s ego.

Being micromanaged actually disincentivizes hard work and creativity, which is the last thing any good team lead should want. Instead of being a gatekeeper or a micromanager, set clear expectations of your team, and empower them to follow through on their own.

6. Empower Others

As a team lead, you have a lot more responsibilities than just getting the work done. You’re in a unique position to empower others, and encourage them to take on new and exciting responsibilities according to their skills. Great leaders have the ability to bring out greatness in others.

Success in development and programming isn’t just about technical skill. If you want to move to a more senior position, company leaders will be checking to make sure that you have what it takes to lead a team of developers.

Even if you’re new to development, it’s never too early to start learning some tips for success in this field. Like any technical skill, your interpersonal skills will only get better the more you use them.