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Team Lead and Engineering Manager Roles Difference

Team Lead and Engineering Manager, while they both hold pivotal positions within organization, their roles, responsibilities, and impacts differ in many ways.
Two similar but different roles: Team Lead and Manager
Team lead and manager
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The Great Divide: Team Lead vs Engineering Manager

In the world of tech, roles can often blur at the edges, making it challenging to draw clear lines between positions. This ambiguity is especially true when comparing the roles of an Engineering Manager vs a Team Lead. While they share several similarities, their responsibilities and focus areas diverge in critical ways.

1. Scope of Influence: Tactical vs. Strategic

One of the most distinguishing features between a Team Lead and an Engineering Manager lies in their scope of influence. A Team Lead is typically more "in the weeds," dealing with design decisions, heavily engaged in code reviews, and possibly working on scheduling. They are the soldiers on the front line, often tasked with executing the strategy laid out by upper management.

On the other hand, an Engineering Manager is less involved in these day-to-day technical matters. Instead, they handle the "HR" side of things—performance reviews, compensation, and so on—as well as collaborating with external teams to shape long-term strategies. The Engineering Manager operates at a more strategic level, defining what the goals are, while the Team Lead focuses on how to achieve those goals.

2. Development Focus: Tech vs. People

Another perspective on the roles' difference is their development focus. A Team Lead is primarily concerned with technological growth. They dive deep into the code, solve technical challenges, and direct the technical development of their team. In a sense, a Team Lead "grows the tech."

Contrarily, an Engineering Manager is more people-oriented. While they also have a sound understanding of the technology, their primary responsibility is to develop their team members. They focus on mentoring, coaching, and growing their team's skills and capabilities. Therefore, it can be said that "an Engineering Manager grows the people."

3. Company-Specific Role Definitions

The differences and similarities between a Team Lead and an Engineering Manager can also vary across companies. Some companies may see the Team Lead as the point person for the team, running the day-to-day operations, involved in daily meetings, understanding project priorities, and setting expectations.

Engineering Managers in these settings might oversee multiple teams, set their direction, handle budgets, and other high-level tasks. This divergence in role definitions across companies highlights the fluidity and flexibility of these roles in the tech industry.

4. Technical Contributions & People Management

At a more granular level, the roles diverge in their expectations around technical contributions and people management. Team Leads are often expected to contribute code and architecture for the product, acting as a point of contact for developers when they're stuck.

However, Engineering Managers usually aren't expected to code themselves. They do possess a solid technical understanding of the product, but they're not typically the go-to person for devising a new feature's architecture.

In terms of people management, a Team Lead coaches and mentors their team but generally doesn't delve into financials such as salary, bonuses, or benefits. They also don't approve time off. These tasks typically fall to the Engineering Manager, with the Team Lead providing input as necessary.

5. Interchangeability of Roles in Some Cases

In certain environments, like FAANG (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Google) companies, the roles of Team Lead and Engineering Manager can sometimes become almost interchangeable. Managers might deal more with people issues, while Tech Leads tackle more technical problems. However, there are cases where managers delegate as much work as possible to Tech Leads, but the reverse seldom happens.

In conclusion, while there is considerable overlap between the roles of Engineering Manager vs Team Lead, key differences exist. Their primary focus areas, responsibilities, and level of strategic influence set them apart. Understanding these differences is crucial for those considering a step into either of these roles