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Jelle Smeets
Jelle Smeets

Posted on • Originally published at

Engineering manager vs Tech lead, 2 key differences

What are the differences between Engineering manager vs Tech lead? Not all companies use the same definition, and it can be quite confusing what is what. Discover the key 2 differences between the roles that help you keep them apart.

Are you looking for your next professional role? Discover if being an Engineering manager or Tech lead is your next dream role!

Engineering manager vs tech lead

In several companies, the roles of engineering manager and tech lead overlap. They are both leadership positions close to the development teams. And are expected to navigate complex problems. People or technology. But what are the key differences on Engineering manager vs tech lead?

  • The engineering manager has their main focus on people, and the tech lead on technology.
  • Tech lead is usually a role people have besides their engineering title. The engineering manager job is not something you do on the side.

If you are interested in a more in-depth explanation of the differences between engineering manager vs tech lead, continue reading below.

#1 People vs technology

The engineering manager has their main focus on people. The Tech lead on technology. You can expect an Engineering manager to work with people on their goals, and personal development plans, and do their performance reviews. This is not something a Tech lead would typically do. But the engineering manager can still be expected to run a project on technology if the need arises.

The Tech lead however is often in charge of leading specific areas of technology. You can have a tech lead on platform, security, specific parts of your product, etc. It is not the tech lead's goal to work on the personal development of people. But it can be a side effect of trying to achieve technical excellence in their projects.

Interested in learning more about being an engineering manager? I have a brand new series on Engineering leadership.

Will your focus be on people or technology?
Will your focus be on People or Technology?

#2 Role vs title

The second big difference is the role vs title. The engineering manager is in most cases a job title. It is not something you do on the side of a different role. And that brings me to Tech lead. Usually tech lead is a role a (senior) developer will have besides their role. They can be a developer in a team. And be expected to be the tech lead on several projects.

A quote from The manager's path that nails the definition of a tech lead:

The tech lead role is not a point on the ladder, but a set of responsibilities that any engineer may take on once they reach the senior level.

Camille Fournier in the Managers Path

The difference between role and title also explains the authority you have in these positions. In both cases you will be a leader. And people will count on you to lead. But only the engineering manager will be in a management position. This means that as a tech lead you will not be responsible for salaries, performance ratings, etc. But it is possible that an Engineering manager will ask you for your advice on the performance of any developer in your projects. And last but not least, as a tech lead you will still probably report to an Engineering manager.

Final thoughts

In this blog post, you discovered the 2 key differences on engineering manager vs tech lead. The engineering manager focuses on people, and the tech lead on technology. The engineering manager is a full-time job, while the tech lead is usually a role people do on the side.

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