So You're a New Lead Developer... Now What?


You’ve just been asked to lead a small team of developers in building a new solution for your biggest client. You’re comfortable with the technology, but the added pressure of being responsible for the outcome is intimidating. You might have concerns about trusting people you haven’t worked with before or with balancing your own technical output with the demands of fielding questions and peer support.

The best way to be effective as a leader is to invest in the people around you. This session will give you a framework for building supportive and efficient teams. You’ll learn how to use one-on-ones to build trust, how to give feedback without tension, and how to manage the new demands on your time.

If you’re an experienced individual contributor stepping into project leadership or engineering management you won’t find a more relevant talk. Technology changes, but the skills you learn here will benefit you the rest of your career.


I’ve worked primarily in consulting/agency style companies most of my career. As a result, I tend to move between projects frequently: in the course of a year I might be leading multiple different teams. Through that experience I’ve learned to really value 1:1s as a way to get to know my team and be as helpful to them as I can. Additionally, I’ve learned a model for giving feedback that has good answers to my fear of delivering it.

Theres a lot of content out there about how to be a good leader or manager, but not much that speaks directly to new leaders of small software development teams. I really wanted to take some of the most impactful advice I’ve received and put it into context for developers.


  • Defining Lead Developer for our purposes
  • Scenario - imagine leading a team of 3 developers of varying skills, plus a QA engineer
  • Trust is a requirement for successful project
  • 1:1s - Getting to know your team
    • 1:1s are most effective use of time for a lead developer
    • Tips for meeting with a senior engineer
    • Tips for meeting with someone who is not very talkative
    • Tips for meeting with a junior
    • Tips for meeting with someome outside your discipline
    • Challenge: Implement with your teams and see how it feels in a few months
  • Feedback: Continuous improvement
    • Why we fear giving feedback and how that is ultimately harmful to your teams
    • A successful feedback model
    • Feedback examples
    • Feedback FAQs


Cut Content

The end of the attached PDF have some slides that were cut for time; mostly tips around time management or what to do when invited to even more meetings.

Are you blocked? This is a great question to help triage when you’re getting lots of chats from your teammates looking for input or help. If theyre not blocked yet, then let them know you’ll reach out in a little while to help later, hopefully they can figure it out or keep making motion on something else. If they are blocked, then you can consider the wisdom of shifting gears and giving some direct support

Just Say No is about being empowered to control your time. Sometimes you get asked to do things that you’re just over capacity for. Another meeting, helping on an unrelated project, etc. Obviously do more than just dismissing the request, but you should be free to admit without consequence when you’ve just got too much on your plate. Point the requester to someone else who can help, or see how urgent it is and find out if it can wait a few days or weeks. Often things are not as urgent as they first appear

Delegate - Sometimes you can send someone else in your place. This can be good practice for them!

No Agenda, No Meeting We try to have this policy internally: each meeting invite should include an agenda. It should let every invitee know what the topics are and what decisions are hoping to be reached. If your corporate culture embraces this, you’’ll be better able to determine which meetings are most vital