How to change a career path?

You don’t have to do the same job your entire life. Rigid roles no longer exist today. Technology revolutionises life. Projects become complex. Specialists with various skills collaborate to achieve common goals. There is a call for flexibility.

Employees develop their skills when they take on extra tasks or try out new roles. This opens up new career paths. Including ones that lead to a promotion.

With Robert, those activities had a similar character to the role of Tech Lead, hence the direction of his career path. He:

  • supported project managers
  • acted as QA Lead
  • helped Tech Leads in projects
  • assisted in other tasks

“I wanted more challenges simply to grow”, he mentions. The idea of a new career path came from conversations with friends. To achieve that, he decided to improve his skills instead of changing the industry or company.

What was the manager's reaction to Robert's plans? “I asked him at that time what he thought. As he was also a clan head (a person that makes decisions about people's assignments in projects and other stuff) we agreed that I should try.”

The challenging journey from QA Engineer to Tech Lead has started.

Development is the key

The IT industry is changing rapidly. The Tech Lead has to develop to keep up with the innovations. One has to focus on the development and acquisition of knowledge. Learn and grow. Know how to write the right code, assess its quality, and solve technical problems.

Another valuable skill is the ability to ask for support. You need people who have experience in a particular field, especially if you are new in a position:

“Beginnings were not easy, first of all, lack of programming knowledge was a pain, so I had to find my way to deal with such cases. In general, I always requested a senior developer for projects I led so I have strong support in areas in which I do not feel fully competent.”- that’s how Robert describes his beginnings.

Support also came from Wunderman Thompson. It was in the form of courses, special tasks and on the job assistance like:

  • soft skills training tailored for this role, e.g. negotiation training with the client
  • special theme conferences
  • mentors ready to help in new situations
  • work resourcing which means that you get support in areas where you lack abilities

All of that contributed to Robert's career path to becoming Tech Lead.

Knowledge alone is not enough. However combined with the continuous development of competencies, it is already a solid basis. How can a Tech Lead help the team with problems? By using the potential of each member to overcome difficulties.

To do that, one needs strong, project management skills. Since the team’s work relies on good organisation which guarantees to achieve goals. Robert still lacks some experience in this area, but he is aware of his weaknesses and works on them. And this is a step in the right direction.

Not only for developers

Projects almost always run into difficulties. The trick is to steer them in such a way that it is not up to the Tech Lead to solve all problems. So, who else should be involved? All team members should take part in overcoming the hurdles. Delegation is a desired skill here.

Tech Leads motivate their teams to find a universal solution. The idea is not only to solve the problem, but also improve the process in the future. This requires the ability to look at the situation from a wider perspective.

That is why they should know how the software works, how it fits into a larger ecosystem, and how to use and manage it. They understand the business. Focus on things that are important to the customer. And communicates needed details to the team members in a clear way.

Should they be experts with experience as developers? This is of high value and makes the work easier. But, as the example of Robert’s career shows, it is not essential.

With a background in QA, you can become a valuable Tech Lead. Although, as Robert says, it was not always easy:

“Another challenge I faced, was to gain the trust of more experienced developers who knew I am not a Tech Lead coming from the developer path, but QA. In some projects I felt I had to prove my value and that I am not that dumb.”

IT career means working with people

In the Tech Lead role, passion for technology and management skills merge and combine. As Grace Hopper once said: “You manage things, you lead people.” And that is the definition of the Tech Lead in a nutshell.

What matters most are interpersonal skills. Even though the job title contains a “tech” description. The IT industry relies on technology, but it also serves people. And to get things done, you have to work with people, whether they are customers or team members.

So, the Tech Leads ensure communication within the team. They create a good working atmosphere that promotes achieving the goals. The ability to plan and communicate is crucial here.

And, above all, they are leaders. They represent colleagues in contacts with customers, managers, and other company employees.

To be a Tech Lead

So, what is needed to steer your IT career toward a Tech Lead? For Robert, the key values are determination and consistency. He points out: “Stop worrying what others would say. Follow your dreams, get out of your comfort zone, and learn from your successes and failures.”

It fits in with the culture of curiosity, which people build at Wunderman Thompson. There is a space to test new solutions and learn from one another. It enables people to improve their skills in this way. A real opportunity to grow within an environment that cares for growth. Both employees and the organisation.

Robert summarises his current job in these words: “Be like a Swiss Army knife. Always at hand in crises and ready to do many tasks.”

Becoming a Tech Lead is a journey from an engineer to a mentor. It combines technical and non-technical worlds, hard skills with soft skills. But it's worth a try if you want to start a new career. No matter if you are a developer, a QA Engineer or in another position. Challenges await!

This article was co-authored by Magda Serafinowicz.