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Growing Through Different Engineering Lead Roles

Leadership
Coaching / Training / Mentorship
Career Path

8 May, 2022

Weiyuan Liu
Weiyuan Liu

Director of Engineering at Zillearn

Weiyuan Liu describes his experience moving up from an individual contributor, tech lead, and engineering manager.

Three Steps to Become a Tech Lead

The role of tech lead is one of the three paths that an individual contributor can grow into. In my experience, there were three main points that allowed me to become a tech lead.

The first was to gain the trust of the team that I was in, through the demonstration of competency. Since I had been working as an engineer for quite some time, I was able to leverage my skills to prove that I could lead projects no matter their technicality. 

Secondly, I have to gain the trust again, now through the demonstration of integrity. By continuing to work with my direct team, I grew a bond with each member, showing that I was a force for good and a positive influence that they can look up to.

The last thing I did, was to be a mentor figure to my fellow engineers (especially the juniors). This brings a fresh dynamic to the working relations, allowing younger engineers to learn not just from the technical work that they are assigned to do, but also what I can offer to them from an experienced angle (planning of career map, tech evangelism opportunities, etc.)

Continuing to Grow

When I became a tech lead, I learned about my duties while working in the role. I made mistakes, such as not conducting fulfilling one-on-ones, but I was able to connect with other leads and managers and gain their advice. I recommend new leads do the same: reach out to notable leaders in your organization and ask for their mentorship. 

From tech lead, I transitioned to step into a tech lead manager role (similar to engineering manager but encompassing tech lead duties too). While the duties were similar to that of a tech lead, I now handled a larger team than spanned multiple offices. My challenges from working as a tech lead were amplified in this role. It was difficult to juggle technical work, project management, and people management at the same time. 

I had to look internally to confront myself about the issues I was having in this role. As a manager, I was unable to complete deep technical work in the way I could as an individual contributor or tech lead. This led me to feel like I was being less productive, although I was simply working on different tasks. 

Overcoming Managerial Challenges: 

I learned that the best solution for my productivity challenge was to find the right technical work to grow my ceiling without bottleneck-ing my team. That way, I could still grow as an engineer, while functioning perfectly in my role as an engineering manager in the workplace.

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