The ever-growing tech talent shortage can make it seem challenging to hire entry-level programmers, much less the type of skilled talent you need to lead your software development team. A technical lead needs top-notch leadership, development, and architectural skills. Finding candidates with this unique combination of abilities is no easy task. However, you can simplify and expedite the process with a clearly defined candidate avatar and a detailed hiring plan.
What Is a Tech Lead?
A technical lead is a senior-level developer who oversees a software development or software engineering team. They make sure that everyone on the team understands and follows the technical specifications of the project. While they need good leadership skills, tech leads are more focused on the technical aspects of development teams rather than people management.
You may want to hire one tech lead per team or one for frontend development and one for backend development. Since it's a more informal role, you might also choose to shift the tech lead role among team members based on the project.
What Does a Tech Lead Do?
The tech lead role is often confused with the lead developer. However, there's a distinction between the two roles, although this may vary between companies. A lead developer is the senior developer working on the project, while the tech lead manages the team.
The tech lead oversees all of the product development and launch processes. They consult with and train IT specialists and identify and manage problems that crop up during all phases of development.
What are the roles and responsibilities of a tech lead?
The software industry evolves at a lightning pace, so roles are constantly changing and being refined. The tech lead role varies tremendously between companies. A tech lead's responsibilities may vary depending on where they work, but they're generally expected to handle:
- Analyzing a product's functionality
- Specifying the technical aspects of a project such as coding language, frameworks, architecture, servers, and implementation
- Training the team and assigning tasks
- Motivating the team
- Setting a positive team culture
- Setting and monitoring progress for the development timeline
- Analyzing team member performance
- Facilitating cooperation between tech teams
- Analyzing the software's performance and identifying weaknesses
- Updating the software to mitigate weaknesses and risks
- Collaborating with DevOps and the product manager
- Adopting the right tools to maximize team productivity
- Mentoring team members
Junior and entry-level tech leads salary and skills
Junior or entry-level tech lead salaries start at $98,712 per year. Even a junior-level tech lead is still a senior-level developer, so their salary is related to their experience. Tech leads are frequently given their first lead position from within a team where they may be the lead developer. Depending on the organization structure, there may be a lot of overlap between lead developers and tech leads. Junior-level developers will probably only be overseeing one project, and they may have the following duties:
- Ensuring code quality and managing the code database
- Making architectural decisions
- Choosing the right framework
- Working with the engineering manager and product manager
- Controlling technical debt
- Mentoring and training junior developers
- Delegating tasks to team members
- Ensuring all technical processes are being followed
Senior tech leads salary and skills
Senior tech lead salaries run as high as $164,906 per year. They may be responsible for leading multiple projects or teams. They may manage all frontend or backend development. Senior tech leads have over five years of experience in managing tech teams. In addition to the responsibilities listed above, senior-level developers may have the following duties:
- Performing business analysis of client requirements
- Identifying and designing solutions
- Ensuring cooperation and collaboration between teams working on different projects
- Developing and executing training for development teams
How To Find and Hire the Best Tech Lead
Often, the best way to find a good tech lead is to look at your existing team for natural leaders. If there is someone within your team who can function as the tech lead, your job will be easy. If no one on your team can naturally move into this leadership role, you'll need to focus on developing a strong candidate avatar and implementing an effective hiring strategy.
Develop a candidate avatar
You're probably familiar with the notion of an avatar from creating your ideal customer avatar. The concept is the same for a candidate avatar. Your candidate avatar is the ideal candidate you hope will apply for your tech lead position. Start creating your candidate avatar by listing the educational and technical skills your ideal candidate should have.
Next, list the soft skills your candidate will need. Much of this will overlap with your job description, so creating one will make it easier to create the other. However, your candidate avatar will include more detail about the type of person you're looking for. These details will help you determine the best place to find your ideal candidate, just like your customer avatar helps you determine where and how you should advertise.
Include personality traits that will help you zero in on your perfect fit. This is a good time to analyze your current teams so you can fill in any skills gaps and round out your teams. If you're hoping to transition to a new language or technology in which your current team is weak, you might want to prioritize that skill.
The more you flesh out your candidate avatar, the more useful it will be as a recruitment tool. Throughout all steps of the recruitment process, think about your candidate avatar and tailor it to them.
Learn More: In-House vs. Remote Developers: Pros and Cons
Create a detailed job description
While you may be tempted to copy and paste a generic job description, putting in extra effort at this stage will save you headaches later. A well-crafted job description will attract the candidates you want and discourage the ones you don't. Your job description should provide a framework for your hiring process and an easy method of filtering candidates later.
Be specific about required skills
Make it clear in your job description what skills, experience, education, and technology are non-negotiable. This is not the place to throw in everything but the kitchen sink. Think realistically about what your tech lead will be doing and the abilities they'll need.
Although it doesn't hurt to have a second list of nice-to-have skills and experience, don't go overboard on it, particularly if it's a skill that can be picked up easily. If your candidate has strong technical skills, a minor tech skill will be simple for them to learn. Unqualified candidates may ignore the secondary skills, while a strong candidate may pass you up if they don't have all of them.
Include how much the position pays
Given the competitive hiring market, many candidates won't bother applying if you don't list the pay rate. You can include a range if you want to leave some room to negotiate. However, it shouldn't be a huge range. Listing a range of $98,000 - $164,000 conveys that you don't know what you want. Setting a specific, marketable, narrow range will keep you from losing qualified candidates as soon as they see your ad.
Get a technical professional to proofread your job description
If your HR team is writing the job description, have the interviewer or someone else in a technical role look over the job description. This will eliminate any inconsistencies or mistakes in the ad that could confuse or discourage candidates.
Perform an initial screening
This is the phase where you screen out unqualified candidates and move those with the required tech skills to the next level. This should be a quick and easy process that an external service or your HR team can do. There are even testing services that allow you to set up a screener with your job ad. Candidates that don't pass the screener test can't apply for the job.
However, it's important to strike a balance when screening candidates. While you want to make the process as efficient as possible for your hiring team, setting up too many hoops for candidates to jump through may alienate the most qualified candidates.
This screening step should be quick and easy. Review their resume to check for required skills and experience, then schedule a quick 10-minute call. If the screening call will be done by someone non-technical, you'll need to make sure they can ask and understand one or two technical questions that will weed out candidates who are either too junior or deceptive.
Schedule a more intensive phone interview
You may need to divide this interview into two parts — a technical interview and a soft skills interview — if one interviewer isn't skilled in determining both or if separate interviewers aren't available during one call.
When you're interviewing for a technical lead, and they've passed the initial screener, focus on soft skills before technical skills. Asking behavioral questions relating to their experience is a good method for determining soft skills. While technical skills are obviously necessary, a technical lead needs to function well within a team more than they need to be a technical wizard.
Don't hesitate to end an interview as soon as you determine a candidate isn't for you. There's no need to go through with the technical portion of the interview if the applicant doesn't have the soft skills.
If the candidate has soft skills, follow up with a technical interview. This shouldn't take more than 30 minutes or so. It can be done on a video call with a collaborative code editor. Be encouraging and engaging. Ask the candidate to walk you through their thought process as they work through the problem.
Start with a simple function, although you may want to avoid the most well-known ones such as FizzBuzz. If they can't do this, you can stop the interview. A senior developer can do this in a matter of minutes. Next, choose a more complicated problem but one that can be worked through in the time you've allotted. This doesn't necessarily need to be related to the type of work they'll be doing. At this point, you just want to get an idea of their technical chops and see how they work through a problem.
Give a take-home test
Next, you'll want to give a more detailed, take-home test to more closely evaluate a candidate's technical and problem-solving ability. There are numerous options available online, or you can create a test more related to the type of work they'll be doing. Don't overdo this. Try not to give anything that will take more than two hours to finish. Be respectful of your candidate's time.
Alternatively, you could ask an applicant to show you the code for a project they've already developed. Senior developers should have many such projects to choose from. Ask them to walk you through the development process, why they designed it the way they did, and how customers use it.
Do a face-to-face interview
The final step in the hiring process should be a deep dive into their technical and interpersonal skills. The specifics of what you cover in this interview will depend on the tech stack you need, but you're broadly looking for a candidate with the ability to:
- Explain common design patterns
- Design an effective architecture plan
- Explain the elements of good code
- Identify common code smells and anti-patterns
- Talk about the best practices they implement and the reasons why
Determine if they're a good team fit
Finally, you'll need to determine if they fit your existing team well. A top-notch technical team needs a good cross-section of abilities. You need people skilled at knocking out code quickly and creating more detailed modular code that can be reused for other applications. A good tech lead not only has these skills but knows when each should be used.
Your tech lead should be able to spot strengths and weaknesses in their team and distribute tasks accordingly. Look for someone who can facilitate discussions while maintaining the team's respect.
Next Steps in Hiring a Tech Lead
Finding a tech lead with the right balance of leadership and technical skills can feel like hunting a unicorn. Using a candidate avatar and a step-by-step hiring process will make it easier. However, if you'd rather skip the hassles of finding and vetting candidates, Revelo's tech talent platform can help. We provide a pool of vetted, highly qualified developers with the skills you need so you can focus on moving ahead with your projects instead of recruiting new talent.