Who me!? (Being a dev lead)

15 May 2017

A recent Scott Hanselman podcast entitled “road to lead developer” got me thinking about my own trips along that thoroughfare.

I’d like to say it’s always been a well planned journey, ending with some wise person anointing me as lead dev. In reality it’s been more a case of groping around in the dark until I eventually tripped and impaled myself on the anointing sword.

What I have learnt is there is no one sure path, and it will differ depending on your organisation and the people in it. Often you’ll find yourself somewhere such a role isn’t even recognised.

But I think it’s a required one in a successful delivery team.

A definition

Before we go further let’s be clear what I’m talking about. I’m referring to the person who takes point on any technical decisions, not the one who approves your holiday or who sets out your individual performance plan. That may be the same person in some places, but I’m interested in just the techie stuff.

It should also be differentiated from seniority. So being the most senior dev does not automatically make you this. Previously my assumption would have been the person tagged as lead dev (or dev lead, technical lead, grand poohba, whatever your preference is) was the most technically gifted and/or experienced developer in the room.

In practice it’s my experience they’re the person willing to do two things

Everyone has opinions and many are happy to make them known. A lead dev however is the one setting a direction by being willing to make a decision.

Good ones make them having listened to the people around them. Poor ones either ignore them or just go with the loudest.

Yes, you!

If you are one, ideally you were selected. I can imagine that would help give you confidence in the decisions you make. However you may be like me, and find yourself often taking on the role because you sense the vacuum and it’s impact on your team.

Either way I think my two requirements apply. You must be willing to

Clearly there’s more to it than just this, and I don’t claim to be a guru on the matter. But unless you have a hyper-performing, super self-organising team i.e. you’re the exception, I believe you need someone to lead, and that leader has to be willing to do those two things.

For reference, it’s probably an arrogance in my abilities to make decisions, or an ignorance of the consequences of them (or a bit of both) which explains why I’m happy to keep impaling myself. But I’m hopeful if I do it enough I will finally do a half decent job of it!

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Who me!? (Being a dev lead) by Alan Cruikshanks is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Based on the work at http://cruikshanks.co.uk/blog/who-me-being-a-dev-lead/.