Hiring a lead developer

Are you needing to hire a new lead developer? Have you found your list of wants difficult to reconcile with the candidates you’re fielding? I can relate, and I further imagine as you’re trying to pare down your list, you’re having difficulty narrowing down which traits to look for in a lead developer.

4 key character traits

As the Head of People Operations, I consistently reflect upon our team’s experience in hiring certain roles. Learning from the successes, I’ve found it’s good to jot down the key traits that make a person in that position excel to an unmatched degree. Let’s delve into my four key character traits to look for when hiring a lead developer.

See the big picture

I’m aware that I’m not exactly starting my traits list off with an actual trait, rather an ability, but it fits so I’m running with it. Now remember, you’re hiring for a lead developer. These individuals will be responsible for driving the digital product development by a team of junior developers. More often than not nowadays, digital products are raw ideas & concepts that a client wants to bring to fruition. Therein lies the value of having a lead developer who is able to see the big picture and steer the team towards it.

The most important differentiator of whether a developer is a good lead or not is the ability to see the project end state. While junior and mid developers generally coast along, focusing on the tasks they are assigned, senior and lead developers are the ones who can formulate what exactly they are building. Developers who have a good sense for balancing business requirements and the team’s ability to achieve goals typically make good leads.

Well organized

Lead developers are great at prioritizing work, enough said. Well maybe I can expand a bit… Essentially, as lead developers can see the big picture or otherwise, end state, they have the acute ability to schedule work considering that perspective. Though I’m well aware that having the ability to prioritize appropriately and actually doing so are not connected. I fancy myself an organized person, yet somehow I can never seem to get the chores at home in order.

The point I’m driving at here is that prioritizing is both a skill and choice naturally, but being a truly well-organized person indicates a specific mindset or brain wiring that simply not everyone is privy to. So to the example of myself, I’m organized at work because I’ve been trained for time management and prioritizing my tasks; those people who are well-organized in every aspect of their life are on another level. Finding this in a lead developer is not only key, but will nearly guarantee a successful hire and valuable company asset.

Self-aware

For my third point we come to, lead developers know what they don’t know. Here I go with some 4d chess, but seriously it’s about the candidate knowing their limits and not being afraid of them. Being a lead developer doesn’t mean you know everything, in fact you need to be comfortable to know that you shouldn’t bear the responsibility of complex issues alone. Recall they are leading a team and the team members are all in it to win it.

So for example, the security of an application needs improvement, but perhaps you know little about security; a good lead developer won’t be afraid to ask for help. Their key leadership role is to make sure the team is working on the correct issues, not about being able to execute all the work by themselves.

Communicative

Lastly, lead developers are great communicators. Effective communication is vital to everything in the workplace, especially when working in a remote environment where you’re not in the same space or even the same country as your team members. A lead developer needs to understand a precise description of specific steps needed when asked about what needs to be done to launch a project. This includes but is not limited to everything from recommended technologies, to team size and expected time frame. All this information needs to be shared to clients smoothly and concisely. Moreover, a lead developer is the go-to person for not only the development team but also the product team; therefore, they must understand the balance between a developer friendly product and client.

Keep in mind that lead developers from all walks of life and variety backgrounds can have these four traits I’ve listed above. It’s important to explore the range, comfort & strength they have with these traits during the recruitment process. You want a lead developer who can and will lead so testing them a bit during the interview is a given. If they truly possess & excel with these traits, your test will simply allow them to shine, showing you they are very likely the candidate you’ve been searching for!

Maria Agustin
Maria Agustin
People Operations
Maria Agustin is the Head of People Operations at Slash. She’s also the Co-founder of Pratisara Bumi Foundation, which runs leadership and entrepreneurship education programs in Indonesia. Originally from Jakarta, Indonesia, she’s worked in social innovation, startups and economic empowerment. In 2016, she started managing one of the top coworking spaces in Asia, and that’s when she began to focus on location-independent entrepreneur community building from around the world, the future of work culture, and people. She’s a community leader for one of the world’s well-known venture capitals, Techstars, in Asia Pacific and she has organised Startup Weekend Bali six times; as well, she is a design sprint facilitator at 1000 Startup Digital Indonesia.
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