What's the difference between a tech lead and an engineering manager?
September 21, 2023
min read

What's the difference between a tech lead and an engineering manager?

Eli McGarvie
Eli McGarvie

Are you confused and unsure if your company should hire a Tech Lead or an Engineering Manager? This article breaks down the dissimilarities between the two roles and helps you determine which suits your needs best.

Let's start with why the roles of engineering manager and tech lead are often confused. This is mainly because these roles share many similarities and responsibilities, which can lead to confusion. Due to these similarities, one person can fulfil both roles. This is typically not a problem for smaller companies. However, as your organisation grows, it will become more challenging for one person to manage both positions effectively.

💡 Learn more about tech roles in our DevLexicon

What is the distinctive difference between a Tech Lead vs an Engineering Manager? 

To fully comprehend the differences between these roles, it's important to note that a Tech Lead is responsible for directing the technical aspects of a project and ensuring its smooth implementation. They are the primary source of expertise when making important technical decisions. On the other hand, an Engineering Manager is more focused on ensuring the team's collective success and that everyone works together effectively to achieve the project's goals.

Role Main Focuses
Engineering Manager People and processes
Tech Lead System and software-related tasks

Tech Lead vs Engineering Manager 

A Tech Lead and an Engineering Manager are two distinct roles within a company's technical team, each with their own responsibilities and focus areas. Let's look at each role and break them down individually.

Event Banner

Hire skilled developers in Europe 🚀

Post a job ad on our exclusive developer job platform and get paired with highly skilled candidates from across Europe.

What is a Tech Lead? 

A Tech Lead is typically a senior-level engineer who takes ownership of a specific project or technical area. Ultimately they combine technical expertise with leadership skills. 

The role of the tech lead involves guiding and mentoring the development team, providing technical direction, making architectural decisions, and ensuring successful software project delivery. They possess a strong understanding of the technology stack in use and are responsible for maintaining high-quality code standards and best practices.

The tech lead works closely with other team members, product managers, and stakeholders to ensure alignment and successful project execution. They also participate in code reviews, troubleshoot technical issues, and offer technical guidance and support to team members.

What are the main roles and responsibilities of a Tech Lead? 

The specific duties and responsibilities of a Tech Lead may differ based on the organisation and team structure. However, some typical tasks and duties include

  • Technical guidance

The Tech Lead is responsible for providing technical guidance and expertise to the dev team.

  • Code review and quality assurance

Is responsible for reviewing code and ensuring it meets the required standards and quality. They provide feedback and guidance to the team to improve code quality and maintain best practices.

  • Technical strategy and innovation

Is proactive in identifying new technologies, tools, and methodologies that can improve the development process and drive innovation within the team.

  • Problem-solving

Can analyse complex technical problems and provide effective solutions. Has strong problem-solving skills and can guide the team in resolving technical issues.

  • Database Management

Understanding database concepts, query optimisation, and data modelling are important for managing data-driven applications and making informed decisions regarding database technologies.

What are the required soft skills for a Tech Lead? 

The required skills for a Tech Lead vary depending on the specific role and organisation, but some common skills include:

  • Communication

Effective communication skills are crucial for a Tech Lead to effectively convey ideas, instructions, and expectations to team members, stakeholders, and other teams.

  • Problem-solving

Possess strong problem-solving abilities to effectively identify and resolve technical issues, troubleshoot problems, and make decisions in line with the project's objectives.

  • Project management

Tech Leads often oversee projects, so they should understand project management principles, including effectively planning, organising, and coordinating resources.

  • Time management

Have good time management skills to prioritise tasks, manage competing deadlines, and ensure the project progresses smoothly.

  • Adaptability

Tech Leads should be adaptable to new technologies, methodologies, and industry trends to ensure they stay current and can make informed decisions.

  • Strategic thinking

Possess the ability to think strategically and align technical decisions with the overall goals and objectives of the organisation. They should be able to anticipate future needs and make decisions that have a long-term impact.

What are the required technical skills for a Tech Lead? 

 A Tech Lead should have a solid technical background and be proficient in the relevant programming languages, frameworks, and technologies their team uses. Below are some common technical skills generally expected from a Tech Lead:

  • Strong programming skills

Should possess proficiency in programming languages relevant to the team's technology stack. This may include languages like Java, Python, JavaScript, C++, etc.

  • Architecture and design skills

Possess a solid knowledge of software architecture and design principles. They should be able to design scalable, maintainable, and efficient software systems.

  • Knowledge of development methodologies

Be familiar with various software development methodologies like Agile, Scrum, Kanban, etc. They should know how to apply these methodologies effectively in their projects.

  • Database skills

Good understanding of database concepts and proficiency in working with databases like MySQL, Oracle, MongoDB, etc. The individual should be capable of designing efficient database schemas and writing complex queries.

  • Web development skills

Be proficient in technologies such as HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and frameworks like Angular, React, or Vue.js.

  • Version control

Possess experience in collaborating with version control systems such as Git. They should know how to effectively manage code repositories, branches, and merges.

  • Testing and debugging skills

Be proficient in writing unit tests, conducting integration testing, and debugging code. They should have a good understanding of testing frameworks and be able to ensure the quality of the software being developed.

  • System Architecture

Familiarity with system architecture concepts and principles is important to make informed decisions about technology choices, scalability, and performance optimisation.

  • DevOps and Continuous Integration/Deployment

Familiarity with DevOps principles, continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) pipelines, and tools like Jenkins, Docker, or Kubernetes are essential for ensuring efficient and automated software delivery.

What is the salary for a Tech Lead?

A Tech Lead's salary can differ based on their location, experience, and the organisation they work for. To provide some insight, we have compiled average salary information by country.

Country Average Annual Salary (USD)
United States $101,381
Germany $80,566
United Kingdom $76,936
Canada $93,019
Australia $104,180

RELATED: Best Paying Jobs in Technology

What is an Engineering Manager? 

An Engineering Manager oversees the entire technical team, manages resources, sets goals, and ensures the team's success. They focus more on the people and process aspects of the team rather than the technical aspects.

What are the main roles and responsibilities of an Engineering Manager? 

An Engineering Manager's primary roles and responsibilities include:

  • Leadership

The Engineering Manager leads and manages a team of engineers. This involves providing guidance, direction, and support to ensure the team's success.

  • Team Development

An Engineering Manager's responsibility is to recruit, hire, and train engineers. They also foster a positive and collaborative work environment, provide feedback and mentorship, and encourage career growth and development.

  • Stakeholder Management

Work with other departments, such as product management and operations, to ensure alignment and promote effective teamwork. They also interact with clients, vendors, and partners to understand their needs and expectations.

  • Risk Management

They identify and mitigate risks associated with engineering projects. This involves anticipating potential issues, developing contingency plans, and making strategic decisions to minimise risks and ensure project success.

  • Communication

They act as a bridge between the engineering team and upper management. Engineering Managers communicate project updates, progress, and challenges to stakeholders and ensure effective communication within the team.

  • Budgeting and Resource Allocation

Engineering Managers manage budgets, allocate resources, and make decisions about equipment, tools, and software needed for engineering projects.

  • Compliance and Quality Assurance

They ensure engineering projects comply with industry standards, regulations, and quality requirements. They may conduct audits, implement quality control measures, and ensure that engineering deliverables meet the necessary standards.

What are the required soft skills for an Engineering Manager? 

Some of the required soft skills for an Engineering Manager include:

  • Leadership

Possess the capability to inspire and motivate a team, delegate tasks, and guide them in achieving goals.

  • Problem-solving

Engineering Managers must be skilled in analysing complex problems, identifying potential solutions, and making informed decisions.

  • Collaboration

The ability to work well with others, build relationships, and foster teamwork is vital for an Engineering Manager to coordinate and align efforts across different teams and departments.

  • Empathy

Understanding and empathising with team members' concerns, challenges, and aspirations is important for fostering a positive work environment and promoting employee engagement.

  • Time management

Being able to prioritise tasks, manage multiple projects, and meet deadlines is essential for an Engineering Manager to ensure efficient operations and project execution.

  • Conflict resolution

Engineering Managers need to be able to address conflicts, mediate disputes, and find resolutions that are fair and beneficial to all parties involved.

  • Strategic thinking

Having a long-term vision and the ability to align engineering goals with overall business objectives is crucial for an Engineering Manager to drive innovation and growth.

What are the required technical skills for an Engineering Manager? 

Some common technical skills include:

  • Programming Languages

Possess proficiency in programming languages like Ruby, Java, C++, or Python. Understanding the coding process enables evaluating the team's work and providing guidance when necessary.

  • Software Development Lifecycle

Understanding the software development lifecycle (SDLC) is vital for effectively managing an engineering team. This includes understanding different methodologies like Agile, Scrum, or Waterfall and managing key stages such as requirements gathering, design, development, testing, and deployment.

  • Cloud Computing

Understanding cloud computing platforms like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, or Google Cloud is essential to leverage modern infrastructure and enable scalable and cost-effective solutions.

What is the salary for an Engineering Manager? 

Compensation can vary based on location, company size, industry, and individual negotiation skills. Below are the average salaries based on location. 

Country Average Annual Salary (USD)
United States $154,351
Canada $122,302
Germany $106,643
United Kingdom $119,215
Australia $119,904

Several factors contribute to why an Engineering Manager typically gets paid more than a Tech Lead:

  • Responsibilities: An Engineering Manager is responsible for overseeing the entire software development process, managing teams, setting project goals, and ensuring successful project completion. They have a higher responsibility and accountability level than a tech lead, primarily focusing on technical aspects and team coordination.
  • Leadership and Management Skills: Engineering Managers must possess strong leadership and management skills. They must effectively manage teams, mentor and guide engineers, and make strategic decisions. These skills are generally more demanding and require higher expertise, which often translates into higher compensation.
  • Organisational Impact: Engineering Managers directly impact the success of software projects and the organisation's overall performance. Their decisions and leadership significantly influence software development initiatives' quality, efficiency, and profitability. This level of impact on the organisation's success often justifies higher compensation.

Which is the better fit for my company? 

So, when should you opt for a Tech Lead, and when is an Engineering Manager the better choice? Well, it all depends on your company's specific needs and priorities. A Tech Lead is the way to go if you are primarily concerned with technical excellence and need someone to lead the way in coding, architecture, and implementation. They will bring their technical prowess and ensure your project is executed flawlessly.

However, an Engineering Manager is the perfect fit if your main goal is building a strong, cohesive engineering team and fostering a collaborative work environment. They will focus on the bigger picture, ensuring effective communication, mentorship, and support for the team members.

Need to hire a team-driven Engineering Manager or a highly-skilled Tech Lead? 

Are you having trouble finding the best talent for your company? WeAreDevelopers can help. As a leading software developer community, we connect companies with potential candidates. Let us use our expertise to improve your tech recruiting, employer branding, product marketing, and brand awareness.


#Wanted and #Misunderstood: A Developer Survey 2023 (Full Report)

Download now

#Wanted and #Misunderstood: A Developer Survey 2023 (Full Report)

Jetzt downloaden