How to Manage a Team of Developers

By BrainStation May 3, 2019

As it is often said, all companies are tech companies. This means that the success of a company is often tied to its successful use of technology.

Technical leaders must understand the business needs and the technical requirements to fulfill those needs. One of their main responsibilities is often to ensure the productivity of the Developers who build and maintain a company’s technical infrastructure.

Successfully navigating that role involves bringing together the vision of the company, with the technical requirements, and the personal motivations of the Developers. Here are some tips on how to manage a team of Developers.

Be Clear About Your Vision

Developers are the builders of technology in today’s companies. They are skilled, eager, and passionate about building things. Successfully managing teams like this, therefore, requires having clearly defined goals and targets.

This means the leadership of a company first needs to be clear about the vision of the company: the why. Technical leaders then need to translate that into an appropriate technical vision that supports the business vision: the how.

With a clear vision of why and how, Developers can have an understanding of the work they need to do, and how their work impacts the larger vision. No Developer wants to feel like a “cog in the machine.” Instead, they want to know their work is having an impact. That knowledge provides the energy to stay motivated on difficult tasks, put in extra effort, and truly drive the business forward from a technology perspective.

Define Excellence

Once there is clarity of vision, then the technical leadership needs to set the tone of the engineering culture.

Strong, capable Developers are crafts-people who take pride in their work and want to feel empowered to do their best. When shortcuts are common, deadlines are more important than testing, or Developers are overworked, the culture will repel those who are truly skilled and talented.

Effective tech leads advocate for responsible engineering, and support initiatives that ensure the quality of architecture and code. They listen to the needs of Developers, understand blocks, and work to find productive solutions aligned with business needs.

In many cases this means keeping an eye on the future. There will always be deadlines and pressures to ship a product yesterday. But it is the responsibility of tech leads to look to the future and ensure that short-term crises are fixed by sustainable, long-term processes, improving overall quality of the product and the productivity of the team.

Focus on Career Development

A Developer that doesn’t keep their skills sharp risks becoming outdated – and can’t bring the best ideas to the company’s deliverables. This is one of the reasons why Developers, and indeed, software development careers in general, are known for an expectation of continuous learning.

Therefore, tech leads must recognize their team’s needs, goals, interests, skills, and strengths, and provide opportunities for Developers to grow in ways that intersect with the vision of the company.

Having a place to apply new skills or try things out is immensely valuable to Developers. Many companies offer a budget for personal development, send employees to conferences, or support a percentage of work time to focus on tasks that benefit the engineering team, and not just the business.

Mentorship by senior team leaders can also provide valuable training to younger members, and the motivation to grow within the company. Sharing knowledge across the team empowers everyone and makes the overall product more robust and less likely to be controlled by siloed individuals or groups.

By enabling the growth of Developers within a company, tech leads strengthen the technology foundation as well, ensuring the long-term health and competitiveness of the company’s services and products.

Work on Your People Skills

Leadership of any kind always involves managing people, along with the processes within which people work. The right people with strong processes, lead to quality products and services.

By understanding how Developers work, what motivates them, and how to effectively communicate, a technical manager can gain the respect of their Developers and help them do their best work. That’s why good technical leaders were often Developers themselves at one point.

A common refrain in tech companies is “hiring for fit.” This means that while technical skills are important, cultural fit is even more important. We all want to work with people we like, and a tech lead recognizes chemistry amongst their team, finds the right balance of similar and diverse perspectives, and notices gaps in the team that need to be filled.

For maximum productivity, morale needs to be high – one disgruntled Developer can sink the morale of an entire team. The happier the team is, the easier the team is to manage and motivate, leading to better ideas and greater productivity.

Be the Buffer From Political Issues

Developers are often the kind of people who want to avoid politics. That’s why many of them avoid management roles. They prefer to spend their time building systems by writing code rather than navigate social hierarchies.

Yet businesses are social institutions that naturally have a political side, where decisions need to be made, people have vested interests, and tough conversations need to be had.

A tech lead needs to act as a buffer from the political winds that may be happening at higher levels of management and protect the Developers from those pressures so they can focus on productivity. While Developers are quite logical, they are people too and need to feel that they are valued and that their team lead is looking out for them. A technical lead, therefore, needs to advocate for what is best for the team, while also negotiating the business needs amongst the higher levels of management.

People, Processes, and Architecture

Technical leadership ultimately comes down to managing people, processes, and architecture. The right people, strong processes, and robust architectures lead to quality products and services.

Recognizing the needs of Developers, and providing the resources they need to thrive, creates success for Developers, and brings a company’s vision to life.


Jonathan Bluks is the Lead Educator, Web Development at BrainStation, an experienced Full-Stack Web Developer and an overall tech enthusiast.