Continuous Learning and Growth: The Journey of a Software Team Lead

The journey to becoming a software engineering team lead is likely through the journey of a software engineer, then at some point you decided to pursue the path of a manager. The journey from going from a junior engineer to a senior engineer required a lot of growth, study, research, mentorship, and other necessary steps to elevate yourself more and more over the years. Now that you’re a team lead, that growth should continue, but in on a different course.

The Evolving Landscape of Software Engineering

A key part of your growth as an engineer was staying on top of what’s going on in the industry. That doesn’t change as a team lead. You have to continue to stay relevant. Continue your established habits to keep pushing. But now you need to expand on that path too. It shouldn’t just be the latest Node packages, or Go frameworks, but also a more broad level too, like how is AI changing how people work? Is your team doing it?

You can also use what you know about your team, and department, is doing, or struggling with to expand your pursuit as well. Does your team struggle with code coverage? Keeping API documentation updated? What are real problems that your team is struggling with, now use your time to pursue how to solve those problems. And keeping up with the latest tools and changes will help you. Maybe your team is stuck in Jasmine and Karma tests, but you find that there’s a easy transition into Jest that would modernize your team, but also solve other real problems.

Another aspect to consider is how can you optimize your own role? What insights are you tracking on your team, and how are you getting it? What are your KPIs and how are you measuring them? Your journey to stay on top of the industry should include management as well. That may lead you down into better project management practices, tools, reporting, or introducing an engineering management platform to give you automated insights not just for your team, but for engineering and product.

The Benefits of Continuous Learning

There will be ongoing and cumulative value of continuing to learn and grow. Your primary job is being a leader now. Meditate on what the most important aspects are for being a great leader. You’ll find qualities like empathy, communication, and more. As you continue to build upon your strengths, and work on your weaknesses as a leader, you’ll flourish more and more. And as you continue to grow, your team and those around will benefit as well.

Overcoming Challenges

You’ll quickly learn that time and focus are your biggest challenges. There will be many things vying for your attention, so without intention, your time will quickly get away from you. You’ll need to juggle personal growth, team member growth, team growth, product planning, project planning, strategy, meetings, people needing you for various things, working with other teams and leaders, and a lot more.

Another challenge is balancing what you want to do with the team versus where the team may want to go. Ultimately it’s up to you to steer the ship, but it’s a balance of giving ownership to the team, but also maintaining being the leader and captain too. You don’t want to swing too far to either side, because you’re the one with the most experience, context, and insights to make the best decisions, but sometimes as a leader it also means allowing shifts to happen that the team wants and needs over your personal perspective. It’s a constant delicate balance, and you’ll make mistakes, but learning and adapting from those mistakes are important.

To overcome these challenges you need to learn time management, priority management, better communication skills, and learning how to lead as a captain, but not be over-bearing too. All of that just needs a lot of practice, and getting a lot of feedback.

Personal Growth as a Team Lead

As a team lead, as we discussed, your growth plans should continue to be a critical part of your plans and career. You need time to self-reflect, and meditate on what you’re doing, how you think, how you react to situations, triggers, and stresses. And having those balanced with your goals, you’ll slowly grow into a better leader over time.

And most importantly, seek feedback. Ask for feedback from your team, your peers, and your own leaders. Ensure that everyone feels safe to give feedback, especially from your team since a lot of people will have a sense of fear giving feedback to their bosses. But when people feel safe, they can give you insightful feedback. And when you get it, don’t get defensive, and take it seriously. Also show that you’ll take action on that feedback. That information will be instrumental in your growth.