Who is a team leader, and how do you become one?

Some positions in a typical IT company have no dubious interpretation. Web developers develop web apps, QA engineers test software, designers make designs… But the role of the development team leader differs depending on the company and the team lead’s beliefs and experience. 


  • What do you do as a Team Lead?
  • What was your career path? How did you become a team lead? 
  • What should a good team lead know?
  • Can a team lead efficiently combine coding and team management? 
  • Summing up

Today, we talked to Ihor Zakolodyazhnyi and Anatoliy Baranchykov. They have different backgrounds, opposite perspectives on some aspects, and quite contrasting understandings of what a good team lead should do and be like. Check out their answers to get familiar with a team lead position and get a better understanding of the role a team lead plays in an IT project.


What do you do as a Team Lead?

Ihor: I work as a developer, plus I manage the team. Apart from developing software, I’m an architect and discuss new ideas with the product owner. Concerning the team – I teach, mentor, help, and give advice. My team’s task is to help me, so I have to prepare its members and make sure that they will complete their tasks properly.

Anatoliy: As a team lead, I mainly help team members with issues related to the project (coding problems and finding optimal solutions). My core responsibility is people management – I help with personal issues. About half a year ago, I was promoted to a new role and became a vice president of an R&D department. However, as my team is quite small, apart from the new obligations, I also kept the team lead functions.

What was your career path? How did you become a team lead? 

Ihor: I used to be a communication engineer and worked in civil aviation. At some point, I decided that I wanted to start coding. I read a bit, learned a bit, and I liked it. I started as a freelancer, combining development with my full-time job. A path from a self-trained newbie to an in-house developer took me about seven years (as during these years, I also had a full-time job as an engineer). 

In the first IT company I worked with, I became a team lead almost immediately because, as a freelance developer, I dealt with complex projects where I had to communicate with clients directly. I had no team back then, but somehow I understood that you have to take hold of the initiative, and it will all work out.

Anatoliy: I have been working in IT for a very long time. I wrote my first project in 1999. That was a website of the local newspaper. 

In 2005, I got a remote job at a German-Hungarian startup that was developing a system with physical devices and a web portal for people with diabetes. In 2010, I moved to Budapest and became a team lead in this project. This was my first experience as a team leader with a remote team (part of my developers were from China). Unfortunately, the project went bankrupt in 2014.

After a few months, I got a job at a startup dealing with network security. This time I decided to take a break from people management and concentrate on coding. Three years in this company, I decided to take a “gap year” and simply rest from someone else’s projects. After half a year of this long vacation, I started my own project.

It took me several unsuccessful attempts to realize that I needed a team of like-minded pals to create a project. Fortunately, there are such people in my community. These were people who, like me, were burnt out and wanted to change something. So we chose an idea that united us all. In a month, we made an extension that helps to leave notes for videos on YouTube. Mainly, this project was important because it taught us to make our own projects. 

When my “creative leave” ended, I decided to return to big projects. I understood that I would hardly get a job as a team lead after two years of “vacation.” So I applied for the senior developer. Since I knew the full stack used on the project I applied to, I was quite confident about myself.

In a short time, my teammates started asking me for advice on various issues. Four months after my arrival, the team leader of the project decided to quit, so the CPO immediately offered this position to me, despite the fact that there were other people on the project who had worked there longer, and I was a newcomer. This is my path to a team lead role in my current project 🙂

What should a good team lead know?

Ihor: First of all, a team leader should have complete information about the project and understand all the subtleties and nuances. As a mediator between the client and the team, you need to understand what everybody wants from you. 

As a team lead, your job is to be more than just a leader, you are part of a team. If someone has a problem, then everyone has a problem. Of course, it depends on the project, but to a greater or lesser extent, this is always the case. You must find time for everything – explanation, support, communication, leadership, solving your tasks, and discussing new ones. You need to be able to organize your time and prioritize tasks. If someone falls behind, your job is to help them.

Anatoliy: I believe a team lead should know the stack the project works on (not in all details, of course). Also, a team lead should be a bit of a psychologist to deal with conflicts and help people in their personal struggles. The team lead should mentor people and constantly celebrate their successes personally and at meetings. If a person has some kind of failure, then the whole team should help to understand the problem and why it happened. Trust your people, and then they will trust you.

Can a team lead efficiently combine coding and team management? 

Ihor: Sure, why not? However, my team is quite small, so I can tell only about coding as a team lead in small teams. In my previous company, I had more team members, and nevertheless, I managed to combine coding and management. 

If you spend all your time managing the team, you are doing something wrong. It means that the team cannot cope without you, so you took the wrong role or left them without some important information. My team must be able to work independently. And when they are independent, what am I left to do in my free time if not coding 🙂 

Anatoliy: I don’t think that the team lead can be efficient in writing code, as they have many other functions related to solving problem situations, mentoring, and content switching. However, I believe you can write code and be a team lead if your project has a microservice architecture.

Summing up

The role of a team lead in an IT company is pivotal in ensuring the successful execution of projects and the efficient functioning of the team. They provide leadership, guidance, and support to their team members, overseeing project management, fostering effective communication, and leveraging their technical expertise. 

Team leads play a crucial role in coordinating and aligning the team’s efforts, resolving challenges, and driving the achievement of project goals. With their ability to balance technical knowledge and leadership skills, team leads are instrumental in creating a productive and collaborative environment that enables the delivery of high-quality IT solutions.

Do you need an experienced team lead for your project? Contact our managers to find out more about our staffing services.

Do you want to try yourself on a challenging tech position? Check out open positions in our current projects.

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