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  • Lokajit Tikayatray

This Is Why Most Programmers Fail to Become Tech Lead

Updated: Sep 24, 2023

Every developer aspires to become a lead. The “Tech Lead” title signifies more than a promotion; it represents expertise, decision-making, and leadership.

However, the transition from coder to Tech Lead can be challenging.

Many programmers move into Tech Lead positions based on their strong technical deliveries. But, they fail miserably due to a lack of experience executing the lead role.

While technical prowess is essential, it’s not the sole criterion to become a successful Tech Lead.

Before we go deep into why most programmers fail to become a successful Tech Lead, let’s understand the role of a Tech Lead.

Defining the Role: What is a Tech Lead?

A Tech Lead is a crucial role within a technical team or organization. They are responsible for providing technical guidance, leadership, and expertise to the team members. The Tech Lead is often a senior-level developer or engineer with extensive experience in their field.

The primary responsibility of a Tech Lead is to ensure the successful delivery of projects by overseeing the technical aspects of the team's work. They work closely with the project manager or product owner to understand the requirements and translate them into technical solutions.

The Tech Lead is responsible for making architectural decisions, designing and implementing software solutions, and ensuring the overall quality of the codebase.

In addition to their technical responsibilities, a Tech Lead also plays a crucial role in mentoring and developing the skills of the team members. They guide and support junior developers, help them grow their technical skills, and foster a collaborative and productive work environment.

A Tech Lead is also the main point of contact for any technical issues or challenges during the project. They are responsible for troubleshooting, resolving technical problems, and communicating with stakeholders and other teams.

Overall, a Tech Lead is a highly skilled and experienced professional who combines technical expertise with leadership and mentoring abilities. They are essential in ensuring the success of technical projects and the growth of the team members.

Now that you have a fair idea of what is expected from a Tech Lead role let's dive into the five most common reasons why most programmers fail to become successful Tech Lead.


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1. Shying Away From Taking Ownership and Responsibilities

For many budding programmers, shying away from responsibility is a common pitfall. And many carry this trait throughout their careers.

As a programmer, standing by the code you produce is essential. This means acknowledging any mistakes and rectifying them. It also means justifying your decisions when questioned.

To become a Tech Lead, developers must embrace responsibility for the entire project. They need to be proactive in managing the team’s problems. It also means leading from the front during critical situations to ensure smooth progress.

Ownership and Responsibilities

Yet, a significant number of programmers hesitate to shoulder additional responsibilities as tech leaders or technical leads. This reluctance often stems from a lack of motivation or a fear of potential repercussions.

Programmers with a laid-back attitude tend to do just enough to get by, which is not ideal for a technical lead. They maintain high expectations for their career trajectory but are unwilling to put in the requisite effort.

Some people try to get recognition without putting in the effort, relying on others instead. However, a skilled technical lead knows that true recognition comes from hard work and personal dedication.

While avoiding responsibility might seem appealing in the short run, it hampers growth. Avoiding accountability leads to low self-confidence and blocks the path to the Tech Lead position.

2. Resistance to Delegation

A common pitfall among good programmers is the “I’ll do it myself” mindset. Developers are often accustomed to hands-on problem-solving. However, a Tech Lead must trust their team and delegate tasks effectively.

Holding onto tasks overburdens the lead and stifles the team’s growth.

Often, programmers who are good at their job are reluctant to delegate tasks. This tendency persists as they advance in their careers.

To rise to the role of a Tech Lead, programmers must learn the art of delegation. The technical lead needs to guide their team members, trust them with responsibilities, and allow them the space to showcase their expertise.

However, many programmers find it challenging to let go. This resistance can arise from a desire for perfection, fear of others making mistakes, or not wanting to relinquish control.

Programmers who are hesitant to delegate often find themselves overwhelmed. They risk burnout as they attempt to juggle multiple roles, often compromising quality and team morale.

Avoiding delegation might offer a sense of control initially, but it’s a roadblock to becoming a Tech Lead.

3. Over-reliance on Technical Skills

Developers often pride themselves on their coding prowess and technical understanding. It’s the foundation of their profession, after all. Their technical skills become their identity as they immerse themselves in algorithms, data structures, and design patterns.

However, becoming a Tech Lead isn’t merely an extension of one’s coding journey. It’s not as if mastering a few more programming languages or frameworks will automatically usher you into leadership.

Many developers fall into the trap of thinking that if they’re the best at coding, they’re naturally fit for leadership. This is a misconception. A Tech Lead must balance technical decisions with team dynamics, client requirements, and business goals.

people working together

To excel as a Tech Lead, software engineers must blend technical knowledge with communication, mentorship, strategic thinking, and humility. Only then can they transition into a Tech Lead who guides, inspires, and delivers.

Relying solely on technical skills and neglecting other essential leadership qualities is a recipe for stagnation. It’s like being an expert sailor in calm waters but struggling when the storms hit because you never learned to deal with adverse conditions.

4. Overlooking the Importance of Soft Skills

Soft skills are not ‘nice-to-haves’; they are essential. Tech Leads must be skilled at teamwork, conflict resolution, and aligning their team’s efforts with the company’s goals.

Imagine you’re outstanding at a video game. You can finish all the levels super fast. But when you play in a team, you must talk and listen to your friends, right?

It’s not just about being the best player; it’s about working together.

A big part of a Tech Lead’s job is to get everyone to agree. It’s not just picking the best way to do something but making sure everyone knows why it’s the best way. And then there are other people in the company, each hoping for a favorable outcome.

A Tech Lead has to guide everyone so they’re all headed in the same direction. This means talking to different teams and ensuring they all work together.

I recall a colleague of mine, John. He was a programming prodigy. Give him a coding challenge, and he’ll tackle it with unparalleled finesse. We all depended on him when it came to intricate coding problems.

However, the cracks began to show when he was promoted to a Tech Lead role.

John’s technical brilliance was undeniable, but he struggled to manage people. In meetings, he’d get frustrated if someone didn’t understand fast. Stakeholder discussions became challenging. He’d go deep into technical jargon, leaving non-tech folks bewildered.

Eventually, unable to manage situations involving people, John lost interest in leading the team. He was clueless about how to handle varying opinions and build consensus. It’s no surprise he failed to succeed as a Tech Lead.

5. Inability to See the Bigger Picture

A frequent oversight among proficient programmers is getting too engrossed in the details. While programmers are trained to focus on the intricacies of code, a Tech Lead must align their vision with the company’s broader goals.

Being fixated on minute details can sometimes blind one to the overall objectives. This narrow focus can hinder the project’s alignment with the company’s larger mission.

Programmers who excel in their tasks often become too attached to perfecting every line of code. This trait, while commendable, can limit their perspective as they move forward in their careers.

A man with a binocular

To transition to a Tech Lead role, programmers must cultivate the ability to zoom out and understand the overarching strategy. They must align with the company’s vision and guide the team toward the end goals.

Yet, many programmers struggle to shift from a detail-oriented approach to a holistic one. They seek comfort in the familiar, fear venturing into uncharted territories, or are inclined to stay in their comfort zone.

Often, Programmers who don’t adapt to the broader view are at odds with organizational goals. They soon become isolated by focusing on technical perfection that doesn’t serve the bigger picture.

Diving deep into details is essential. But not looking up to see the broader horizon can impede one’s path to becoming a Tech Lead.

Tech Lead vs. Engineering Manager

Often, people confuse the role of a Tech Lead with that of an Engineering Manager. There are some overlaps between these two roles’ responsibilities. However, there are a lot of differences in what they do in their daily work.

Tech Lead

Engineering Manager

Responsible for technical decisions and guidance

Oversees the overall engineering strategy and roadmap

Leads the technical development and implementation of projects

Responsible for managing the engineering team

Provides technical expertise and mentorship

Provides leadership and guidance to the engineering team

Collaborates with other teams

Collaborates with other departments to ensure cross-functional coordination

Resolves technical challenges and escalations

Resolves team conflicts and ensures a positive work environment

Works closely with product managers

Works closely with stakeholders to prioritize and align engineering efforts

Keeps up-to-date with the latest technology

Keeps the team informed about industry trends and promotes continuous learning

Have hands-on coding responsibilities

May have fewer hands-on coding responsibilities and more managerial tasks

Reports to the engineering manager

Reports to higher-level management or executives

Take Away

The journey from a programmer to a Tech Lead is multifaceted. It’s not just about coding faster or knowing more programming languages. It’s about personal growth, expanding one’s horizons, and embracing the leadership responsibilities.

If you see yourself in any of these points, don’t panic. Recognize the areas of improvement, seek mentorship, and remember — every successful Tech Lead started as a programmer, just like you.

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A must-read guide for junior developers to succeed in their software career.


How can I become a Tech Lead?

To become a Tech Lead, you need technical expertise and leadership skills. Start by gaining experience in your chosen field and continuously learning new technologies. Develop your communication and problem-solving abilities. Seek opportunities to lead projects and demonstrate your ability to guide and mentor others. Network with industry professionals and seek feedback to improve your skills. Stay updated with industry trends and take on challenging assignments to showcase your leadership potential.


🔥 Become a Successful Tech Lead! 🔥 📘 Talking with Tech Leads: From Novices to Practitioners📘

Want to master the transition from developer to Tech Lead? This book is your roadmap.

👇 Get It on Amazon Now! 👇 🔗 Buy Now! 🔗


What are the main responsibilities of a Tech Lead?

The main responsibilities of a Tech Lead include:

  • Overseeing the technical aspects of a project

  • Providing technical guidance and support to the team

  • Making important technical decisions

  • Ensuring the successful delivery of the project

They coordinate with stakeholders, manage resources and timelines, and ensure that the team follows best practices and coding standards. Tech Leads are also responsible for mentoring and developing team members, conducting code reviews, and resolving technical issues.

How to be a good tech lead?

To be a good tech lead, one must possess strong technical skills and knowledge. They should be able to effectively communicate and collaborate with team members, providing guidance and support when needed. A tech lead should have strong leadership qualities to motivate and inspire their team. Additionally, they should be adaptable and open to new ideas and technologies, continuously learning and staying up-to-date in the ever-evolving tech industry.

What skills are required for a Tech Lead?

Tech Leads require a combination of technical and leadership skills. They should have a strong understanding of programming languages, software development methodologies, and system architecture. Additionally, they need excellent communication and problem-solving skills to lead a team and address any technical challenges effectively. A Tech Lead should also possess project management skills to ensure successful delivery of projects and the ability to mentor and guide team members.

Can one person fulfill both the roles of a Tech Lead and an Engineering Manager?

Yes, one person can fulfill both the roles of a Tech Lead and an Engineering Manager. However, it can be challenging as these roles require different skill sets and responsibilities. A Tech Lead focuses on technical aspects, such as guiding the development team and making technical decisions. In contrast, an Engineering Manager focuses on managing the team, setting goals, and coordinating projects. It requires strong multitasking abilities and the ability to balance both technical and managerial responsibilities effectively.

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