The accidental lead

Last week I asked you all this question:

What is your motivation for being or becoming a lead front-end developer?

I found it striking that quite a few of you glossed over the motivation part and pointed out that you find yourselves in that position almost by accident.

For example:

The previous senior left. The company downsized a bit overall.


The move itself was due to a restructure… I didn’t expect it to happen the way it has!

If you’re not yet a tech lead or front-end lead, you might imagine scenarios where it happens very deliberately, either by being hired for a lead role or because of a promotion planned as part of personal development.

That sounds all very nice, but in reality, the vast majority of promotions happen in times of pressing need.

The current lead left to get a higher paid job elsewhere.

Your company hired a new CTO and they restructured the team.

A new business opportunity demands the creation of a special team, leaving a depleted team to continue work on business as usual.

So, however you may have prepared in advance, the chances are approximately 100% that you are or feel unprepared for technical leadership.

Engineering organisations can also be poor at giving timely feedback. A new lead might not have even realised that they were in the running for a role like that, because nobody ever told them how valued they were.

This is the first rule of tech lead club. Nobody is ready for tech lead club.

On my first accidental front-end lead role, I was confused and stressed out most of the time, constantly worrying that I wasn’t doing enough or being inspiring enough.

I’d been ‘promoted’ (without a pay increase) to lead the team as a project ramped up unexpectedly. One of the team promptly left within a week in disgust as they had wanted the lead role. This was crushing to me. I realised I had no idea what to do, how to hire people or how to deliver the project we had in time for the deadline.

I don’t want you to take two or three attempts to become a good tech lead. The skills needed can be learned. They can even be self-taught to an extent. But a guiding hand can help enormously.

Who most helps you to address work challenges at the moment, and how do they help out?

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