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Question

When applying for a Senior Developer position after having experience as a Team Lead, what is the expectation of being perceived:

  • as overqualified?
  • as unsuccessful on current job?

Will mentioning that I was a Team Lead increase or decrease my chances to land a Senior Developer job?

Let's say company size/level is roughly the same.

Thank you in advance for your answers!

Background

I am passionate about software development. I genuinely enjoy solving technical problems, learning new technologies, taking things apart and examining how they work on the inside.

I haven't always been a developer, for ~10 years I was working in a different area. At one point I realized that development is what I want to do, spent few years sharpening my skills and finally landed my first full time software development job.

I was excited. I was doing stuff I enjoyed doing - and have been paid for that! Job wasn't boring or meaningless anymore. There was no work/life dichotomy anymore - work WAS life.

I was more productive than several of my colleagues combined. I provided better code quality, and even though I did have a lot of knowledge gaps due to self-taught nature of by background, I learned new stuff very fast and covered them quickly. I was considered an excellent developer. Very quickly I have become a Team Lead.

And since then the "work is life" feeling is lost for me.

1. I don't have enough time to do things that make a spark in me

Team Lead job does bring interesting tasks and challenges. Making architectural decisions, implementing practices that improve process and product, etc. But this also brings a lot of responsibilities that I only mildly enjoy (e.g. resource management / planning, code review, mentoring) and, sadly, some that I actively abhor (e.g. dealing with nonsense like "OK, our customer wants to fully respec the requirements, they don't know what exactly they want, but it must be done today").

I have little to no time to do things that I like.

2. I don't feel confident on this position

Because of the fact that I have become a Team Lead too quickly I do not posses enough skills and experience to be a GOOD Team Lead.

My team is actually able to do the tasks that management throws at us. Management is actually pleased. But I still frequently find that I don't know something basic - things that virtually every other dev on my team knows. Also my social skills pretty much suck and it requires way more effort to improve them than my tech skills.

All in all, after being an excellent Developer I am now a mediocre Team Lead.

This is the reason I am considering moving to Senior position. However, I need to understand how employers will react to such move and build my strategy around that.

De facto I am a Team Lead and colleagues/management calls me a Team Lead. However on paper I am a "ведущий инженер-программист" which can be translated both as a Lead or Senior Developer. I am considering listing my current job experience on CV as Senior Developer and only briefly mentioning my Lead-related responsibilities or not mentioning them at all.

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    Welcome new user! (I would urge you to click edit and make the question shorter.) The answer is simply YES, OF COURSE. – Fattie Jan 11 at 17:59
  • Note that titles are very flexible/varied in software. In my neck of the woods a "team lead" is much more important than a "senior" in many situations – Fattie Jan 11 at 18:01
  • I suspect that you're having a bout with impostor syndrome, and that you're a better team lead than you think. Lots of people don't really feel like they know what they're doing and do a good job anyway. However, the important thing is that you seem to be happier as a senior than as a lead. – David Thornley Jan 11 at 19:05
  • One of the hardest aspects of moving to a Lead position is that you lose the ability to measure your own performance objectively (in terms of features delivered, bugs fixed, etc.) - because a big part of your role is enabling your team to be more productive. If you weren't there, how much slower would your team be going? That may help with the unconfidence part... – Julia Hayward Jan 12 at 11:33
  • Also, if you're determined that team lead is not for you, talk to your own employer first. If they have any sense they will find a way to make the transition work for you rather than lose you. – Julia Hayward Jan 12 at 11:36
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All in all, after being an excellent Developer I am now a mediocre Team Lead.

You are undermining yourself. Broaden your vision and then you'd be surprised to see that this is how the majority of the workforce is across many companies throughout the world.

Your team is doing well under your leadership; that is the reason everything is going on smoothly. Else, there would have been chaos.

Even if you are applying for a new job, do mention it as Team Lead and mention that you'd love to do coding along with leading the team.

Never tell anyone, esp your potential employer that you are mediocre at leading or at anything. Tell them that is a lot more to learn in this aspect and you hope to get that opportunity at their company.

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    You are missing an important part of his question, which is that he doesn't enjoy being a Team Lead. Bear in mind, also, IT is one of the few professions where it is not uncommon that skilled contributors make more than their leads. – Joe Stevens Jan 12 at 1:42
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    "I was put into a Team Lead position and the Team was successful but realised I much prefer the hands on role of Developer" is a perfectly good statement which will help your application. – Alan Dev Jan 12 at 11:38
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I think you have to remember that being a Team Lead and Software Engineer are two different skill sets. While there are overlaps between the two, a good Software Engineer doesn't necessarily make a good Team Lead.

I recommend highlighting your interests in returning to being a Software Engineer (seniority level is up to you to negotiate) rather than your own inadequacies in being a Team Lead. Companies tend to like you to focus on the positives of your experience.

For example, I made the switch from Software Engineer to Product Manager and back again to Software Engineer. In my pitch to companies when transition, I highlighted what I loved about being a Software Engineer and what being a Product Manager taught me about being a better Software Engineer. But at the end of the day, what I want to be is a Software Engineer. The pitched worked out for me, but your mileage may vary.

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In my view, these questions differ a lot based on the target audience.

Also, I think the options of being labelled as unsuccessful are based on apparent high standards w.r.t. to the development skills. These are your own thoughts and impressions; and most possibly not shared with others, specially if you get out of your current company. These, those in non-technical positions can see it as a natural evolution, whilst technical employees might think that you were simply promoted because someone left (or that would be my first thought at least). I think the worst they can think is that you lost a bit of skills on the development side and may need some initial help to sharpen them and get used to their code base.

Now, regarding your second question...

Let's say you deal with HR people first. Their first filter is the most generic, and they typically do not have enough experience to understand your background nor the responsibilities you took. To that end, you can prepare your CV/resume in two ways for this position:

  • As a mix of developer and team lead. You can explain that you were promoted to the latter position because of your knowledge and that you still worked on specific development tasks to help your team, if any. This is more descriptive yet complicated; as they may feel tempted to label you as in a fully management role.
  • As a developer. You can group both your developer and team leader experience. This is simpler for HR staff and might actually increase your chances of being "fit to match" with the position at hand.

Now, after the interview with HR, let's assume you get to the next round and meet with some technical team.

  • In the first case, you can explain that you were promoted to team lead because of your broad view on the code and technical knowledge, whichever is more accurate to your situation. Obviously, recently you had to dedicate more time to the architecture & design stuff but still you can quickly get back to the full developer side. You said you learned new stuff very fast anyway, and can probably provide examples of that. Also, you can point out that working on that also improved areas like your personal skills with other people inside the team and have a broader view, which is even better for the long term in developing the project. In that sense, I think you can advance yourself to future needs or better identify them, now that you also have experience with customers.
  • In the second case it's also easier to explain and may raise less brows.

Whichever option you go for, I recommend two things:

  1. Summarise it a lot for non-technical people and match your experience to the new job as much as possible, of course without hiding important info or caveats, if any.
  2. Find out what you have improved when being team lead and how these can be leveraged or incorporated on a full-time developer position (e.g., in my experience with full-time developers I notice that they typically lack a broad vision, do not imagine a possible evolution of their source in the long term and cannot advance themselves to future requests, this leading to possible unnecessary refactors; and of course they sometimes struggle to bridge across teams like integration, infrastructure or management).
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Personally, I would strongly suggest you focus your CV as strongly as possible on the role you actually want.

The reality is, your most recent job title is probably the single most decisive factor on the roles you are likely to be recruited into. You are probably already aware, that recruiting managers read dozens of CVs, and so must filter them quickly.

To be specific, if possible, I would recommend staying away from words like "Lead" or "Manager" for your most recent role. These are much more likely to cause HR or a recruiting manager to either recruit you as a lead, or filter you out as a non-developer.

I would instead focus on those aspects of the role which fit well with Senior Developer responsibilities (mentoring / project leadership, etc. as well as your actual technical contributions), and stay away from pure "line management" topics, like disciplinary matters.

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Will mentioning my Team Lead experience increase or decrease my chances to land a Senior Developer job?

Absolutely INCREASE!

The fact that you were in a lead position proves that you're highly competent and excell in your field.

It shows you're capable to take on and handle more responsibilities and the management of a team or project in a lead role.

If anything, it is a benefit to you being a senior developer as you know and understand "the other side", what is expected of you and what you may expect from your lead as well as from your team.

The only question you may face is:
"Are you OK with going back to being just a developer?".

Easy enough to answer that...

percieved as unsuccessful on current job?

NO!

Your JOB is software development!

Your TITLE / POSITION within this is developer,engineer,lead,supervisor,guru, god or whatever else is out there...

Besides, there are much fewer lead positions available and even in the same company you can be a lead on one project and a grunt on another before being back a lead again.

Especially mid to large companies do this switching often.

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