Why I don't like the "Tech Lead" role

May 31, 2021
The "Tech Lead" title is too often (ab)used as a way to "lord it over" people who are "less technically capable".

I was recently discussing Team Leads and Tech Leads (and if they are different) on technical/software teams. Here I decided to share my thoughts on Tech Leads (maybe I’ll do Team Leads another day).

To clarify what I’m talking about, here’s what I mean when I say “Tech Lead”:

A “tech lead” makes technical decisions. i.e. they choose tools, frameworks, etc. Probably on the career track toward “systems architecture”.

In my personal opinion, the “Tech Lead” role is an anti-pattern, because it’s usually a title conferred in lieu of an actually meaningful recognition of someone’s contribution. That is to say, thet title is a form of what Erik Dietrich calls Carnival Cash.

Further, even when technical leadership is actually needed, that role doesn’t really make sense on a per-team level. It usually makes sense on an organizational level. Giving that title out on a team is again, usually a form of carnie cash, and is often (ab)used as a way to “lord it over” people who are “less technically capable”.

If your organization has a “Tech Lead” title, I encourage you to do your best to only offer it to people when it is needed by the organization (i.e. the organization is lacking in recognized technical leadership), and also attach it to a meaningful salary increase (2% doesn’t cut it), so that it becomes actually meaningful. In particular, don’t start handing out the title like candy on every team, unless every team actually needs that role, and every team actually has someone qualified (and humble) enough to handle the role responsibly.

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