How to find time to keep up with coding when you are a tech lead? 3 tips that work from someone who has been there.

If you have recently been promoted to tech lead, or doing it for a while, you’ll deeply appreciate that there is hardly any time for coding, or maybe zero time at all.

There are a lot of people related things to do, project planning things to do, improving for the future or responding to emergencies. It can quickly turn into a blue screen of meeting appointments and none of them say “work on your favourite coding project”. 

Of course you could code in your spare time, but let’s face it often we are too tired after working all day, and there are friends, hobbies and commitments outside of work.

You want to code more because, it is your passion! And also so you can understand what your team is talking about. And also if things go south, to pass a coding test for your next job! For me the main reason is because coding and building stuff is damn awesome!

So how to get deep into some coding again?

I have come up with the top 3 ways I know from experience will help you to keep up with coding. Not all of these will be instant – it might take a few weeks to work them in, but they will pay off and free up your time for coding, which is definitely a part of your job as a tech lead in most companies.

1. Delegation

Delegation is more than just dumping your work on other people and slapping your hands together with a grin. In-fact if you are not used to it, it can feel mentally harder than just doing the thing yourself. However you will be forced to delegate at some point due to your limit hours per week and so many Slacks and emails coming in. I suggest you actively choose what to delegate and be ruthless.

Delegation can be a whole blog post of book of it’s own. So I will reduce this down to one simple tip – each day try to delegate something that you previously would be loathed to delegate. What is that for you?

For me it is running the daily standups, I felt like that was a “Team Leaders Job” and that developers would be against doing this. However once I started doing it, well it worked out perfectly fine and I think we got a lot of benefits in terms of engagement in the meetings. If you know it’s your turn to run the meeting soon you probably won’t zone out.

The key point about delegation is to be clear what you are asking, and to follow up. It’s still your responsibility, it is just someone else is doing the heavy lifting for you now.

Once you get better or more used to delegation you’ll get more time for yourself to do what you want, including coding work.

2. Keep it boring

As a tech lead you are now the voice of reason, and you are thinking of the business. Convert everything to NoSQL, Kubernetes and NextJS? As a developer you might love a company that chooses a lot of new or different tech, it’s fun to learn and apply. However as a lead you need to think about what will actually pan out well, where the future issues and risks might lay.

By keeping the tech boring – by which I mean make well thought out and informed technology choices – you will do your team a big favour by helping make it easy to deliver things on time. It also increases your chance of being able to contribute.

Here you can carve out little 1 hour tasks that you can do yourself to keep you in the loop. An example is upgrading package dependencies and fixing any issues that introduces. As a result you would be forced to, for example look at the release notes for the next version of React or Typescript say and learn what is new. Hint – if you do this a lot it won’t be anything too exciting, some bug fixes and the odd feature.

By keeping it boring you increase the chance of you being able to contribute to the code, and keep coding.

3. Choose some people to follow

Go follow blogs from great developers such as Dan Abarmov, or read an article from the Martin Fowler back catalog (he writes timeless stuff) can keep you up to date and learning new things. It is a very efficient method to find trusted distilled information. Be choosy about who you follow! And over time keep changing it up.

Come up with an easy to follow schedule, e.g. read one blog post per week, whatever is easy to achieve and start from there. Even better, read a post, then discuss it with your team as part of an appropriate meeting (e.g. you might have architectural meetings or such like), and see what everyone’s viewpoint is on the ideas in the post. You might even get an action out of it that will help you on your current workload.

By following blogs like these, you are not coding per-se, but you are learning which will help you keep up to date, and sometimes it will mean you discover a tool or way of doing things your team can take advantage of. 

Now I have just given you a lot more stuff to do, which in itself might feel like a pain. It is an investment though. Try to anchor these onto something you already do. If you do one-on-one meetings for example you could add a “work to delegate” item to that agenda. Now you don’t have to think about this anymore, until you are in the meeting.

Next Steps for You

They are my 3 main tips for finding more time, hope you found it useful.

Now it is time to think about what you are going to do next. Here is what I recommend:

Of the 3 tips, if you are only going to do one, then work on delegation, and do the following right now:

(If you are not at work now, send an email to your work address to remind yourself when you are back in.)

  • Actions:
    • Write down a quick summary of the stuff you need to do today at work.
    • Pick a task that you would normally be nervous for any reason to delegate to someone else.
    • Acknowledge the reason why you are nervous
    • Make sure you can describe the task in such a way you can hand it to someone in the team.
    • Pick the best person to do this, and tell them to do it.
    • Put a date in your calendar to follow up on the task
    • Put a date in your calendar to repeat this exercise

Well done you have now really delegated something, and once it is done, you will be able to delegate this task again and again.

Soon enough, you will find the problem is what tech work to work on in your newly freed up time. A good problem to have.

Posted by Martin Capodici


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