Tech Lead vs Engineering Manager ⚔️
What's the difference between their roles, and how to assign responsibilities in real-life scenarios.
Last week I had a call with some friends, one of whom is transitioning to an Engineering Manager role. He didn't know what to expect and asked for some guidance.
We did our best to help, but in these cases talking with peers doesn't always work. You might have a friend that holds the same title in another company, only to discover that what you do is radically different.
In tech, some roles are just confusing and each company seems to implement things in its own way.
But why is that? Let's go back to the basics and try to find out 👇
3️⃣ The Three Responsibilities in a Product Team
Whatever way your team is organized, I believe there are three major leadership responsibilities that should be assigned: 🎨 Product, 🔨 Tech, and 💬 People.
On paper, these shoes should be filled respectively by:
🎨 Product Managers — they own the product roadmap, feature requirements, and communication with customers & stakeholders. They create alignment and remove obstacles from the way of the team.
🔨 Tech Leads — they own the technical direction of the product. They make design decisions and guide the development. They spend part of their time coding, part of their time leading the rest of the team.
👥 Engineering Managers — they take care of people growth and well-being. They work on processes, hiring, and career tracks. Their technical background is critical in order to be effective in communicating with their reports, but they don't have big technical duties anymore.
In most companies I have seen, some of these duties conflate on the same people, so instead of having three separate roles, you often have two (or one 🙈).
And this is...fine! There are big overlaps between these roles, so it's natural to have people who end up wearing multiple hats, especially if you don’t work in a big corp.
I want to stress that there is no answer that is right for everybody — every solution is a tradeoff between some qualities. I can't provide any magic recipe, but I can try to shed some light on these tradeoffs, to help you make the best decision for what you want to achieve.
I will do this by talking of two things:
🔀 Hybrid Roles — the three major ways you can assign multiple roles to one person, with upsides and downsides.
🎽 Team Organization — how the same responsibilities change based on the way your team is structured.
So let's dive in! 👇
Hey 👋 this is Luca! Welcome to a 🔒 weekly edition 🔒 of Refactoring.
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