Mark Shropshire and I led a Birds of a Feather (BoF) discussion at DrupalCon Baltimore to discuss building a Drupal Career based on our personal experiences. The room was packed and we had amazing discussions about working as an in-house developer vs. with an agency, resources for moving from site builder to developer, and taking chances to further your career.
There was one topic in particular that we didn’t have a clear answer for: how do I level up in my company from developer to lead developer? We provided some resources about how to develop leadership skills on top of technical skills, but the question remained: how can I demonstrate those skills in my daily work to prove I am ready?
The following are a few opportunities to show you are ready to become a project lead.
If you do code reviews for your teammates, be very clear with your comments and offer constructive criticism. When your teammates review your code, don’t let their comments hurt your ego. Demonstrate your ability to accept criticism with a level head. Also consider using reviews as a learning experience, asking teammates why they solved the problem the way they did. Code reviews are a great place to show your communication skills, emotional intelligence, and flexibility.
Before you begin working on an issue ticket or task, review the description. If the solution strategy is not very detailed, update the description or include a comment with details about how you plan to solve the problem. When you have completed the task, document your solution in detail. This will show your ability to plan, organize, and communicate solutions for a team of developers to implement.
When a teammate has a question or is struggling with an issue, take the time to assist them. As a lead developer, you will get many questions from your team. Showing your willingness to help others will demonstrate your ability to answer questions and mentor your team as a lead. It will also show that you can communicate solutions for others to implement.
When you meet with your team, demonstrate strong verbal communication skills as well as your ability to listen. Lead developers often meet with clients, so your ability to hear the client’s concerns or requests is crucial. During your meeting, ask questions if something is unclear, keep a level head if you receive criticism, and speak clearly and professionally when it’s your turn to speak. Ask “why?” to gain a better understanding of the business goals of a request or to fully understand the problems that need to be solved. Take notes during meetings and provide a recap for your team to demonstrate your note taking and written communication skills.
If you break something, show that you can take responsibility for your actions and focus on fixing the problem. This will demonstrate your emotional intelligence and ability to take responsibility. Pointing fingers or making excuses does not solve the problem faster than accepting responsibility and providing a solution. If your teammate is responsible for the bug, help them solve the problem rather than blame them for the issue. This will show your investment in helping the client.
Start the Conversation
In addition to these opportunities, have a conversation with your manager or boss about your interest in becoming a lead developer. They can give you some tips about specific things you can work on to reach your goal and will pay more attention as you demonstrate your leadership skills.
Bottom line, becoming a Lead Developer is not just about technical proficiency. Leadership and “soft skills” are necessary to become a strong candidate for project lead. Take initiative, be consistent and dependable, be humble and positive, be transparent and open in communication, have unquestionable integrity, and be self-aware. You will be a lead developer before you know it.
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