There are a lot of ambiguous job titles in tech. Even without mentioning the obscure ones like a desktop support analyst, it’s often hard to tell the difference between similar positions when building a team for your next project. In this post, we will take a look at the differences between engineering managers and tech leads. If you are wondering what type of a professional fits the responsibilities listed in your next job opening, after reading this breakdown, you’ll have clarity on whom to hire.
Tech Leads Deal With Code, Engineering Managers Deal With People
The main difference between a tech lead and an engineering manager lies in the focus of their activities. Tech leads are responsible for directly overseeing software development processes.
They need to have a strong command of programming since code reviews are a huge part of the job. Other than that, a tech lead should watch emerging trends in the industry and make sure the team makes the most out of new technologies and tools.
Engineering managers, on the other hand, don’t have to code. They should have a general understanding of what different programming languages and frameworks are used for, as well as be able to determine how much time completing basic coding assignments take.
However, keeping tabs on what kind of code teammates are writing is not expected from EM. Instead, they work to help engineers grow professionally and fulfill career goals, solve arguments within the team, and build steady relationships between supervisors, clients, and the tech team. By all means, an engineer manager is closer to a traditional managerial position than to a tech role.
Tech Lead vs Engineering Manager: Comparing Main Responsibilities
Although both tech leads and engineering managers lead teams and share a common goal – the successful completion of the project, they have different responsibilities in accomplishing it.
Let’s take a look at what day-to-day EMs and tech leads perform to understand what is a tech lead and an engineering manager:
|Engineering manager||Tech lead|
|Employee career and education planning||Building tech infrastructure for the project|
|Holding feedback sessions and one-on-one meetings||Mentoring junior developers|
|Monitoring the team’s productivity||Running code reviews|
|Building a corporate culture||Estimating technical capacity|
|Preventing employee burnout and communicating the team’s concerns to business owners||Removing production bottlenecks|
|Hiring and talent management||Programming ( writing code takes up about 30% of a tech lead’s working time)|
|Resolving arguments within the team.||Experimenting with adopting new technologies and changing development practices.|
Tech Lead vs Engineering Manager: Hiring Differences
After clarifying the distinction between a tech lead’s and an engineering manager’s job responsibilities, let’s take a look at the differences in hiring these professionals.
The first step to examining the job market for both openings is by understanding how relevant these titles are in the industry. With this goal in mind, I analyzed the number of job openings in different countries on top job search platforms – Glassdoor, Indeed, Monster, and LinkedIn. Here are the results of my research (January 2021):
|Job search platform||Tech lead||Engineering manager|
|Glassdoor||12,850 active openings||80,000 job openings|
|Indeed||16,700 active openings||12,500 job openings|
|Monster||5,000 active openings||5,700 job openings|
|12,200 active openings||55,000 job openings|
All in all, the difference in the number of job openings in the US is astonishing and speaks overwhelmingly in favor of engineering managers. It’s worth noting, however, that job descriptions don’t have a well-defined range of responsibilities – some businesses even hire engineering managers for non-tech jobs to oversee manufacturing or other processes.
|Job search platform||Tech lead||Engineering manager|
|Glassdoor||1100 active openings||6000 active openings|
|Indeed||4600 active openings||1600 active openings|
|Monster||73 active openings||280 active openings|
|2,004||9,300 active openings|
A similar trend stays true for the case of British employers – they are more actively looking for engineering managers than tech leads.
As for other markets, the number of job listings shared on job search platforms is significantly lower, however, there’s still a considerable preference for hiring engineering managers over tech team leads.
To start with, let’s see whether the salaries of Engineering managers and tech leads all over the world are different. Here’s a detailed breakdown of both professionals’ yearly paychecks:
|Country||Average tech team lead salary||Average engineering manager salary|
As a result of the comparison, a pattern emerges – in most countries in the world, engineer managers have a considerably higher salary than tech leads. The US is the only tech hub where the trend is somewhat upwards – here, the tech lead salary beats EMs by a small margin.
Considering that engineering managers are both higher-paid and more in-demand than tech leads, it’s tempting for tech company employees to make a transition to the engineering manager vs tech lead role. To understand how employers’ expectations are different for recruiting engineering managers vs tech leads, I analyzed dozens of job openings posted online.
Here’s a general job description for tech lead and engineering manager positions:
Tech team lead job description:
- Over 7 years of experience in software development.
- Understanding how the components of tech infrastructures are used to build complex systems.
- Advanced knowledge of CS, including object-oriented programming and data handling.
- Hands-on experience in algorithm design.
- Well-developed problem-solving skills.
- Advanced knowledge of Git and version control.
Engineering manager jobs prerequisites:
- 5+ years of relevant professional experience.
- Experience in working in agile environments.
- Understanding of software development principles and best practices.
- Moderate command of one or several following areas: JS, SQL, Salesforce, AWS.
- Excellent communication, presentation, and problem-solving skills.
- Eagerness to collaborate, the understanding of how to lead a team, a desire to strive in a collaborative environment.
- Staying informed about top tech news and trends.
It seems that both tech lead and engineering manager job candidates need to have a solid backbone in technology. The focus on coding isn’t as prominent in EMs – instead, companies aim to hire people with excellent interpersonal communication skills.
Should I Hire a Tech Lead or an Engineering Manager?
Considering that the fine line between the responsibilities and job requirements of a software engineering manager vs tech lead is blurry, business owners and employees need to choose to apply or scout talent for a position that helps them achieve their goals.
You should hire a tech lead if:
- You don’t have a well-established tech architecture and are looking for a professional skilled enough to build one.
- Your tech team has no big-picture understanding of how their actions contribute to the project’s success and you are looking for a person capable of aligning business goals and tech specs and explaining this link to developers.
- Your tech team is sloppy at reviewing their code – as a result, bugs and mistakes lead to user frustration.
- There’s no experienced representative of the tech team in business meetings.
You should hire an engineering manager if:
- Developers on your team lack interpersonal interactions and you have a high employee turnover rate.
- Talent sourcing takes too much of your productive time and you want to delegate it to a reliable professional.
- The productivity of your team is lower than expected and a tech lead’s efforts to improve it keep backfiring.
5 Tips For Hiring a Tech Lead
If you realized that hiring a tech lead fits your project needs, it’s time to start writing a job description and launch a talent scouting campaign. It’s no secret that hiring for a tech job is challenging – to reduce the stress and improve the efficiency of candidate screening, follow these simple tips:
- Be specific about the technologies you want a tech lead to work with. Putting too many programming languages on the list of requirements narrows down the talent pool while forgetting to mention an important technology leads to employers rejecting too many candidates during interviews.
- Run both a technical and a behavioral skill check on an interview – both types of skills are important for a skilled tech team leader.
- Describe job responsibilities clearly and concisely so that a candidate has a clear understanding of how a typical workday at the company looks like.
- Pay attention to a candidate’s portfolio – it helps company managers gauge out how passionate candidates are about learning new technologies and challenging their skills.
- If possible, have a junior developer tag along with you on an interview. This way, you’ll be able to test a tech lead’s mentoring skills and ensure that there’s a strong connection between a new hire and the team.
5 Tips For Hiring an Engineering Manager
If, after analyzing your project’s needs, you realized that an engineering project manager is a professional your team needs to succeed, it’s time to start looking for a fit candidate. Here are 5 tips for hiring EMs that help business owners and talent managers streamline hiring campaigns:
- Don’t recruit EMs the way you recruit engineers. This one is, by far, the most common mistake company managers make. When you set out to find an engineering manager, rather than focusing on candidates’ technical proficiency, evaluate their communication, problem-solving, and interpersonal skills.
- Look for visionaries. Engineering managers are there to inspire the team and make sure engineers don’t lose sight of the bigger picture. That’s why you want to look for candidates who are goal-driven and skilled at explaining their vision to others.
- Ask the right questions. Make sure to add both cultural fit and behavioral interview questions to your engineer manager interview questions list. We even covered 20 top questions to ask engineering manager candidates – be sure to take a look.
- Be clear on expectations and job responsibilities. There are different types of EMs companies look for. Some hire fairly technical managers while others focus fully on hunting talent with extraordinary people skills. Find out which side of the spectrum you are on as early in the campaign as possible and specify your expectations in a job opening.
- Let candidates ask you questions. Job candidates who ask manager insightful questions are likely to have more enthusiasm and passion than those who are not curious about the way internal processes are structured.
To reduce the costs of hiring engineering managers and tech leads, consider looking for talent outside of the main tech hubs. For example, opening an office in Mexico, Argentina, or Ukraine, can reduce salary expenses exponentially – use our calculator to see how much you can save by opening a global office.
Opening headquarters abroad requires a lot of technical and legal assistance. To be confident in legal compliance and have a trusted representative in the market, a growing number of businesses hire employers of record – take a look at the benefits of this approach.
To hire a skilled tech team lead or an engineering manager abroad, contact Bridge. We offer full legal, hiring, and operational assistance in scouting talent and managing global offices in Ukraine, Mexico, and Argentina. Other than that, we provide business owners with a custom platform for managing their headquarters overseas.
If you feel like discussing your project with us – get in touch with Bridge. We’ll be in touch right away!