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Level Up - Issue #147

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Level Up

June 5 · Issue #147 · View online

Level Up delivers a curated newsletter for leaders in tech. A project by https://patkua.com. Ideal for busy people such as Tech Leads, Engineering Managers, VPs of Engineering, CTOs and more.


Can you have more than one tech lead?
Last week I wrote my response to the phrase, “We don’t need a tech lead”. This week I want to look at the other end of the spectrum, a team with multiple technical leaders. Firstly, I think having a team with multiple technical leaders can work, but in practice, I don’t see the same team led by multiple technical leaders at the same time often.
Situation A: Imagine a team of 4 developers. Now imagine that there are 2-3 tech leads. Feel a bit unbalanced? Yes. One could describe it as being a bit “top-heavy”. What would each tech lead be doing? Why do you need so many formal leaders for a small team. In this situation, it’s much more common to have a single tech lead.
Situation B: Imagine a team of 8 developers. Depending on the complexity of the domain and application, this is where you might consider splitting the tech lead role, or put differently, multiple tech leads. A single tech lead might be overwhelmed by the complexity, especially if they are newer to the role and still learning and building their tech lead skills. Having two tech leads might help distribute the responsibility and give each person time to do their tech lead duties well. In the happy case, these two tech leads work well as a tech leadership team (or pair).
Situation C: Imagine the same team of 8 developers led by two tech leads. Now imagine the two tech leads fundamentally disagree with each other’s style of building software. What happens? You might notice frequent conflict, team members are provided with contrasting advice/feedback. Although this should be a single team, you often end up with team members gravitating towards the tech lead who they find most sympathetic, aligned with their own styles and you end up with two mini-teams who have to find ways to work with, or more frequently, work around each other. The result is more accidental complexity than required for the product they are building. A good analogy is to imagine a hydra where each head wants to go in a different direction 🫣.
If you’re a manager who decides on team structures and staffing/team membership, you would be hoping for situations A or B, but also need to plan how to handle situation C. There are also often other practical reasons to have a single tech lead as it’s easier for other departments, and people from other teams to interact with a single point of contact instead of relaying context between several.
As Fred Brooks once wrote, “There is no silver bullet.” It depends.
Only a few more seats for the publicly scheduled Engineering Manager Essentials (Management track) training. More dates will be planned after European summer (on sale in Jul). Until then, consider using the summer time to level up your skills with self-paced courses at the http://techlead.academy

Multiple tech leads for the same team can be like a Hydra. This 6 headed hydra photo was taken by Dennis Jarvis (https://www.flickr.com/photos/22490717@N02/32865908492) and included here under the CC2.0 licence
Multiple tech leads for the same team can be like a Hydra. This 6 headed hydra photo was taken by Dennis Jarvis (https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/32865908492) and included here under the CC2.0 licence
Sponsored Content
Check out the Svelte Origins documentary trailer!
Premiering on June 21st, Svelte Origins tells the story of how and why Svelte came to be. Learn about the community and how it’s grown since its inception in 2016.
Leadership
Tim Cook: The 100 Most Influential People of 2022
From grad to VP: my journey to leading Skyscanner’s engineering teams globally
The ROI for manager training: Why it's your best defense against the great resignation
Only a few tickets left for the June cohort. Click the banner to find out more
Only a few tickets left for the June cohort. Click the banner to find out more
Tech
Thin Platforms – Stratechery by Ben Thompson
Uber’s Unified Signup and Login Stack
Highlights From KubeCon + CloudNativeCon 2022
Struggling with time? Take this self-guided course to find out different approaches that might work for you
Struggling with time? Take this self-guided course to find out different approaches that might work for you
Organisation & Processes
LGBTQ+ friendly tech companies: Google, Microsoft, IBM, Apple - Protocol
Engineering Levels at Honeycomb: Avoiding the Scope Trap
How We Test Microservices Locally at Nylas
Tweets of the Week
Such great advice for leaders to manage boundaries 👇 (i.e. saying no!)
More leaders need to encourage better documentation. Check out this approach in one team at Shopify 👇
James Stanier
A great initiative at @ShopifyEng in @thomashs's team: holding a "documentation day" where a team downs tools and brings their team and project docs up to date together.

✅A new @docusaurus site, architecture diagram, onboarding setup, README updates, divided and conquered.
Thanks for making it this far! 🤗
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Want to level up your technical leadership skills? Sign up for online interactive courses like Engineering Manager Essentials or Shortcut to Tech Leadership or check out self-paced courses at the Tech Lead Academy.
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Patrick Kua, Postfach 58 04 40, 10314, Berlin, Germany