9 Qualities to Look for in a Lead Developer • Slash

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9 Qualities to Look for in a Lead Developer

September 16, 2022

So you need a lead developer, and you’re currently considering your options. Have you weighed all the candidates? Considered the pros and cons of each one yet? Did you first make a list of the skills, qualities and attributes that you most want in your lead developer? Well if not, then you may want to read on as we list off the 9 top qualities that a lead developer should have.

Technical Skill

Getting right into things with the most obvious point, technical skills. This goes without saying I’m sure so let’s delve a little deeper into what tech skills because we want someone who is capable and seasoned. Seasoned from working with a variety of technology rather than focused on a singular variant like Flutter for mobile development. You want someone well-versed in the full stack, that is both the back end and front end of web and app development.

Be sure to also look for best work practices like project structure, scalability and maintainability. The individual should not only know the value of boilerplate usage, no need to remake the wheel, but actively employ the technique to the betterment of the development team. Following proper naming convention for files, function name, variable name, etc. is also a must for any lead developer; as well, branch strategy. Branching strategy, to clarify, focuses on how branches are used in the development process such as adding new features, bug fixing, code review and orchestrating the CI/CD pipeline. Keeping the codebase clean and clutter free by managing the addition of new branches is important. Moreover system security, proactively considering for example, the OWASP top ten security risks to stay abreast of.

More technical skills to be on the lookout for are testing, code review and code refactoring. This is just good development practices 101 for any lead developer to follow. Don’t forget that refactoring can include people as well, introducing new members to the team or swapping members out who are not suitable. Team members should organize how the work is done to continue improving.

Finally, if that wasn’t enough, additional tech skills with design patterns, architecture design, algorithms, cloud platforms like AWS/Azure/Digital Ocean/etc., and DevOps are extremely valuable abilities in a lead developer. The individual should have an eye on the team while also considering development cost and the business side of things. Having the ability to speak with experts to gain additional insight and knowledge valuable to the team is an added plus. Simply put, find an all-star to lead your team!

Fast Learner

Now we all know not everyone can be an all-star with tech skill; there’s just too much out there in the tech landscape that’s continually changing as well. Given that, being a fast learner is key for any lead developer. The lead developer should approach every situation as a potential learning opportunity whether it’s to learn a new skill set or hone one they already have.

Being a fast learner gives the lead developer the ability to see and solve problems quickly, taking decisive actions that keep the team progressing efficiently rather than bogging them down and slowing the work flow during the sprint. Collecting ideas and making them effective processes in practice is key.

If the lead developer doesn’t know it, it’s likely the team doesn’t either. Therefore, the individual needs to proactively expose themselves to new technology as it becomes available. The sooner they can quickly learn, define and discuss with the team, the sooner said technology can be implemented to the team’s benefit and members can contribute more productively.

Know When to Say No

Ah yes, that magical two letter word that so many of us don’t like hearing and often are too timid to say when requests are being made of us. We want to do right by the client, plus we want the business to benefit so… why would we dare say no? Well, let’s recall that Scrum teams face a variety of obstacles, one of which is an overburdened workload. Sometimes it’s necessary for the lead developer to say no to additional requests of work when the sprint is underway as to ensure the team members are not overwhelmed beyond their capacity.

Saying no is an art so to speak. Being able to do so with tact, diplomatically, can be the difference between a smooth lead developer and one rough around the edges in the communication department. Either way, “no” must be in their vernacular and they can’t be afraid to say it because if they are, it will ultimately be to the detriment of the team.

Simplicity

Who doesn’t like working when the tasks are a piece of cake, literally… eating all those pieces is work. Though seriously, tasks should never be overly complicated for if they are, it’s likely a result of the approach to the task that was selected. The lead developer needs to be able to simplify the work which has been assigned to the team. If there is a complex task requiring multiple steps, that’s okay, but plan for and execute it with multiple options showing the team members the quickest, cleanest path forward.

Now granted, we don’t want to over simplify things leading to a decline in quality. Cutting corners as well, should never be an option on the table. Look out for lead developers who utilize quick dirty fixes as this will lead to considerable problems down the line when refactoring. The lead developer needs to keep things clean, simple and streamlined to keep the project running smoothly.

Self-Awareness

Here we come to a bit of introspective matters as they are. The Temple of Apollo at Delphi  told us to, “Know thyself.” It was more of a warning to those who overly estimate and even boast about their abilities when in reality, they cannot deliver the goods. Don’t be fooled by an individual who talks themselves up a bit too much.

A good lead developer should be keenly aware of their own abilities, strengths, weaknesses and so on. One who knows these points is better equipped to pair team members with complimentary skills to enhance their efficiency and productivity. Lead developers need to know themselves first, then know the team members to maximize everyone’s strengths and minimize the weaknesses for the betterment of the team productivity, communication, cohesiveness and beyond.

Establishing Trust and Team Safety

So there are two key points here, trust and safety. No, this is not a “trust and safety” board for some SNS sites. What we refer to here is the need for a lead developer to gain and keep the trust of the team members and the client as well. Establishing trust takes time, tact and often patience. The more experience one has doing this, the more smoothly and quickly trust can be built.

Trust with the client comes through positive communication, being available to them when needed, meeting agreed upon targets and delivering quality. The lead developer of course answers to the Scrum master and Product owner, but also needs to be able to build rapport with the client. Additionally, trust with the team members is key as the lead developer will be asking them to do specific tasks. Supporting them in those requested tasks, encouraging them and showing appreciation for their efforts all go towards motivating the team members and creating a positive, trusting environment within the team.

In regards to safety, mainly it’s the mental and emotional state of team members. Yes, the lead developer is not a psychiatrist, and no this is not the implication. Developers tend to be the quiet introverted types as they often spend hours coding with little communication with others; remote work has increased the isolation aspect which only amplifies the importance of strong communication within the team. The lead developer needs to create an environment where it’s okay to make a mistake and team members participate fully without fear of backlash. Team members need to be able to innovate, and innovation requires fostering. This is best done in a safe, trusting, respectful atmosphere where members feel emboldened to participate fully without fear of disapproval. When this environment is active, people will engage more enthusiastically and be transparent. 

Effective Communication

Up to this point you likely have noticed the mention of communication and its inherent importance quite often. That’s because it can’t be overstated. Effective communication is key to all interactions in business and personal life as well. That said, not everyone excels at communicating as it’s something gained through experience over time and often a natural touch for it helps.

Lead developers must consider managing team members’ expectations and carefully select what information is shared with them. Avoiding surprises is a must as no one likes getting blindsided. Written and verbal communications should be clear and concise, direct and to the point but with some tact as receiving things right between the eyes is often unwelcome. Lead developers more than anything need to be available and aggressively follow-up so members aren’t left waiting in order to move forward.

A spoonful of sugar goes a long way and we all know you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Timeless expressions that simply remind us of how important it is to communicate in a positive, reinforcing manner! 

Mentoring & Delegation

Two for the price of one! Lead developers need to mentor team members, knowing their abilities, strengths, weaknesses, limits and how to support them in conquering those. If a lead developer knows these points, they can more effectively delegate tasks within the team, maximizing team productivity and output. Showing young team members the path to climbing the ladder while assigning them tasks that will build their confidence and skills leads to a mutually beneficial outcome for all.

Leaders in all walks of life are there to support and guide those they are charged with leading, and development teams need just as much support as a sales team does. So ensure that your lead developer is a supportive mentor who knows the members and appropriately delegates tasks for an effective team.

Facilitation

We can top things off with the role of facilitator as it neatly closes the chapter on our list of 9 lead developer qualities. This connects well with mentoring and delegation as well. Facilitating the workflow and tasks within the team allows the lead developer to enable members to be more proactive and productive. The leader should keep the path forward as clear as possible, providing sign posts to guide the members while also giving them a level of autonomy that emboldens and motivates them.

Likewise, the lead developer needs to be able to facilitate between various teams; that is, the client side, Product owner and development team. Solving conflicts swiftly is key, whether between teams or within just the direct development team as we know conflict can lead to a poor work environment which cause Scrum teams to suffer.

Now you know what to be on the lookout for when selecting a lead developer. Granted it’s not about finding someone who checks every box perfectly. It’s more about knowing what qualities are key and whether the individual has some of these and the potential  for the others as well. A good lead developer is always focused on the team, lifts the team’s spirits and provides a strong never say die attitude for the developers to rally behind!

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