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I work as a software engineer on a team and we have a tech lead who has been on the team for several years. For the past year, we recently have changed our technical stack (frameworks, etc) for our new client to something very VERY different while still somewhat supporting the old client.

Because our tech lead has not touched any of the new code, he hasn't actually taken any coding work for the new technical stack and has strictly been helping creating tickets of work of what should happen, going to meetings, and rarely helping with the old client. This has worked for a bit especially when we first started building the application and the tasks being asked were very straightforward.

However, as our new application grows, the feature tickets start getting more complex and a lot of the engineers are unsure how to go about implementing the work. In places where I have previously worked, the technical lead would help guide the team or give perspective on how to go about implementing the feature but because at least for this team, our technical lead strictly does more clarification of what is expected of the feature and depends on the team to talk through how they might go about implementing it and if no one knows, he creates a ticket for us to figure it out.

I had a 1-on-1 with him and brought up how he doesn't code as much more and his response was he was working on it but I haven't seen much change these past few weeks. I also mentioned if he has questions on transitioning he could ask the team and he said he would consider it.

Because I haven't seen much change despite that conversation, I was thinking of bringing it up with my manager but was wondering if that was actually what I should do? Or perhaps I should be more direct with my team lead? In truth, I am not fully aware of what other responsibilities he may have or if it is even my place to question my team lead. I have looked at a lot of other questions and it does sound like the technical lead should have a strong understanding of how the application works but not sure if they are actually relevant if my tech lead has been given a more managerial role.

EDIT: I appreciate all the responses regarding "not my job to babysit the lead" -- I understand that this probably comes or can very well come off that way even though that isn't my intention. My intention was more so to voice that "I don't feel I can ask my tech lead for advice" which is one of the responsibilities of a tech lead and I don't really see how else that can be brought up without talking to him and/or my manager eventually.

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    The issue, from your side, is not that the lead does or doesn't do whatever - you're not his manager, it's not your business. The issue might be that you often don't know what to do (as I read this) - that you can bring up with your manager. – Dukeling Oct 3 '17 at 23:49
  • @Dukeling To clarify, I think something from my end that I would want to bring up is I don't feel I can ask my technical lead for guidance on what to do. Isn't that something I could bring up? – Kevin Xu Oct 4 '17 at 0:02
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    +1 because this is a good question for the community. But the actions you describe here are to my mind, clearly insubordinate. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Oct 4 '17 at 17:41
  • @JoeStrazzere that's fair. I appreciate you telling me how this comes off because that isn't my intention. Also Dukeling I think that's what you were alluding to so thanks for also calling that out earlier. – Kevin Xu Oct 4 '17 at 18:47
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First you might decide what you want to happen. From the question, it sounds like you want him to do a technical deep-dive into the new project & technology, so that he can provide guidance. At present it seems like he's acting more like a product owner than anything else.

Consider where technical leads come from ... typically they come from people getting in there, doing the work, and figuring things out. Another path is concentrated study and proof-of-concept work. Point being, there's little point in being tech lead if you're not also a subject-matter expert (SME).

What does this mean? It means that someone else on the team is slowly becoming the SME. Maybe it's you. Maybe it's Jenny down the hall. Or both of you. If it's not your tech lead, his value to the team is decreasing. It's not zero, because of his (presumed) many years of general knowledge and best practice, but it is lessening.

From what the post says, it doesn't sound like you talked to him in terms of there being a problem which needs solving. (Do let me know if I read it wrong)

Recommendation: I would talk to him again, and tell him what you actually need. Specifically, you need access to a [technology x] SME. Don't pitch it in terms of "you're falling down on the job"... that's not a winning approach. Instead tell him that the project is getting more complicated and there have been several instances -- be prepared to name them -- where you thought the team didn't have enough depth in the new framework, and that this is becoming an obstacle.

Ask him then if he has enough bandwidth to come fully up to speed on the new technology. If he agrees, yay! If he can't/won't, tell him that you need his and [manager's name] help to find an expert, or get some more training for the team. Make him part of the solution, not just the problem!

Update: Forgot to mention this. If after all this you still aren't getting satisfaction, speak to manager in private and lay out the whole story. Remember, your interest is not in making your tech lead do this or that; it's in getting access to expertise, from whatever source.

  • Thanks a lot for the answer :) you're right in that I didn't really talked to him in terms of there being a problem (in truth I'm a little scared to call that out but it seems a little questionable I'd bring it up with my manager before him first). – Kevin Xu Oct 6 '17 at 2:11
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It seems to me that your company is having some sort of shift or rearrangement of roles and responsibilities. This is not rare, as it tends to happen with events like new client coming to play (like this case), some business priority or goal being created, agile teams/metodologies adapting to sprints and projects, etc..

Anyways, seems that your "lead" is now acquiring some tasks and roles that are more managerial (probably due to his experience in the company), and is functioning less similar to the usual Team Lead that one may be used to.

I was thinking of bringing it up with my manager but was wondering if that was actually what I should do?

Despite the fact that your "lead" is more managerial, what you and the rest of your team should be doing is becoming Tec Leads yourselves. By this I mean that you should be striving to do your best through that learning curve, so you get a deep understanding of the technicalities of that new tech stack. I can bet this is not your first, nor your last learning curve you'll face as developers.

This is really important, not only for your self-improvement and career skills, but also for the company and team. It is not feasible to rely on one person to guide you through all the projects and different tech stacks that you may face in the future.

That's why it is called a team, so you can divide and conquer any task you face, and where someone lacks knowledge or experience another comes to play to compensate for the others (part of what some people call "being a team player")'.

You may bring this up with your manager, but I doubt that will solve your actual problem (which is on the learning itself, not who "leads" it). If you still feel like bringing it up I suggest you first read Make Coworker lack of effort more visible.

You also say that you are not aware of other responsibilities your "lead" may have; it may be worth finding out those, so you have some first-hand knowledge on why he is not able to code and strive to complete those "work tickets" with you like before, so you can understand him better. Finally, I really hope this words help you and that you can overcome this situation, good luck.

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    This is a golden opportunity for the OP to get tech lead skills to make himself or herself the next logical person to get this job when the current lead moves up to a solely managerial role. – HLGEM Oct 4 '17 at 13:53
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    Yes @HLGEM you are right, it is time for the OP to "seize the day" and possibly do a great leap in his career – DarkCygnus Oct 4 '17 at 15:26
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    Hey just wanted to thank you and @HLGEM for the answer. Really love the point about viewing this as an opportunity. I never really thought of it like that. – Kevin Xu Oct 6 '17 at 2:12
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As a developer on the team, it is not your role to decide how the lead should do their job.

You actually over stepped your role by addressing the issue you perceive existing with the lead in the first place. If there are issues you see not being addressed it is fine to bring those up, but it is not your job function to direct the way that your lead does his job. Your company has decided that this person is going to take the role of the lead on your team. That person has a manager who's job function it is to manage your lead. Unless your manager has delegated some portion of those responsibilities to you for some reason, then you overstepped.

Your lead took your suggestions gracefully it seems, but saying "I'll consider that," is usually a polite way of indicating that they are not actually interested in your opinion. It is possible they mean what they said but just reading your explanation, is it my personal opinion that your lead was just being nice. If I were your manager, and your lead came to me complaining about the conversation, I would counsel you about insubordination, and direct you explicitly to treat your lead with more respect.

If you have issues with the way your team is being led, you can choose to go to your manager with those issues, and that would be the appropriate place to express those issues. But be very careful how you express your concerns.

If your concern is that your lead is not meeting your needs as a team member those are valid concerns to relay. But if your concern is that your lead is not doing the job the way you like that is not a concern to relay to your manager.

If you are going to miss a goal on your annual review because your lead is not doing his part to facilitate meeting that goal, it is a legitimate concern. If your problem is you just do not like the way your lead is doing his part, that is not a concern to relay to your manager.

Of course those examples are not the exhaustive list, but they should give you an idea of how to evaluate if the concerns are ones that your manager is going to consider valid, versus concerns that your manager is going to consider insubordinate since you would basically be accusing them of failing at their job of managing your team lead.

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It should not be not your role to pressure your lead into coming up to speed on any specific technology. If there were leadership style or communication issues, it would be different.

Depending on the team make-up, a tech lead doesn't always need to be an expert in even the same field - lots of leadership skills are transferable, and experience counts for a lot when handling the more 'outward facing' aspects of being a lead.

Yes, discuss with your line manager that you need some technical guidance on specific issues (or training, or time to teach yourself). If you have task-specific technical issues, your tech-lead should be able to identify a suitable person to either take on the work, or provide you with the guidance needed (depending on the exact situation).

This may be an opportunity to change your position in the company (as part of the same team), or an opportunity for someone else - or it might be a stable structure which will work well for some time (these depend on the details, and how things evolve going forward). All you can do here is step forward (or encourage someone else to) if you really feel there is a void to be filled - if you try and push someone who is a bad fit to do better in their role, it's unlikely to turn out well.

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