How much experience is considered enough for a developer to become a team leader?

For IT managment what is the measure to check if the current team member is good enough to become a team leader (technical level, interpersonal level)

updated: removed second part of the question for being duplicate (see comments)

  • not really question is defferent its not asking about good qualities of team leader , this is about how to messure a developer if he is good enough to be come team leader and to which direction each team member to be encouraged to become a team leader in the future
    – Ali
    Feb 28, 2012 at 10:40
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    Then how about - programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/23276/…
    – ChrisF
    Feb 28, 2012 at 10:43
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    near :) thats the second half of my question , still the first half of the question not included there which is how can an IT Manager measure and decide that this team member should become a team leader next year ! , by the way thanks for that link its very helpful
    – Ali
    Feb 28, 2012 at 10:46
  • And that's why you should only ask one question per question. Please remove the duplicate part from your question and make it only about "how can an IT Manager measure and decide that this team member should become a team leader".
    – yannis
    Feb 28, 2012 at 11:16
  • @YannisRizos ok :)
    – Ali
    Feb 28, 2012 at 11:19

6 Answers 6


how much of experience is considered enough for a developer to be nominated to become a team leader

As much as the management feels is necessary. I've known people who spend a decade in a developer role, never progressing into management. I've also known one person who started an entry-level graduate programming job, and was a team leader within two months. Experience doesn't matter, only ability.

for IT managment what should be the messures to check if the current team member is good enough to become a team leader (technical level, interpersonal level)

Ideally, if promoting from within, the correct choice should be obvious. If none of the developers really stand out or push themselves forward, perhaps none of them is ready for the role. If hiring from outside, it's just a standard HR drama.

for team member what qualities should be focused at to get a step forward in becoming team leader

Be the best that you can be at your job. If a team leader role becomes available, speak to your line manager and express an interest (very rarely are people just "given" promotions). Apart from the technical side, you should take an interest in the business side of the company. Sales meetings with clients and the like.

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    Experience doesn't matter, only ability. Ability doesn't matter either. It is almost always politics or the perception of ability that elevates one to management.
    – maple_shaft
    Feb 28, 2012 at 12:14
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    I wouldn't agree with almost always. But yes... politics is definitely a factor.
    – TZHX
    Feb 28, 2012 at 13:42

The answer of all answers: It depends!

To become a leader of a team its not only experiance in developing. More than development your skills in leadership, planning and communication are more important than this. But for sure you have to know how to develop. I know some "team leaders" who have no real experiance as a developer. They know the basics but they know how to lead a development team.


Depends what you want from a team leader. Do you want a technical leader or a manager?

You can (sometimes) find both skill-sets in one person, but it should be very clear in your mind and theirs which role you are trying to fill -- ie. they should only fall back to the other role if time allows.

If you are relying on someone to manage and report to you, and their comfort-zone is technical, you will find that they hide from management problems and you won't get enough information to see that. I have seen this even at Development Director level; it's just a natural response.

If, on the other hand, you intend to continue to manage the team yourself while relying on someone to be your go-to guy for technical advice then you're going to have an epic problem if you've chosen someone whose comfort-zone is man-management. They are going to feel that you've given them management responsibility and no authority with which to do the job.

It's a very tricky line to draw.


There are a lot of great answers already, but I am going to try to give a little bit more color to the other answers:

In terms of years, I think a minimum would be 3, but I would expect most of the time it to be 5-7 years as an individual contributor first.

In general, it is much easier to move into a management (or any leadership) role if you are totally awesome at your job. This means technical skills, but also initiative, communication, and project management.

Here are some things I would want to see before moving someone into a leadership role on my team:

  • They are amazing at their job
  • Estimates are usually spot on (since I will need them to estimate the work for their team) and they always hit deadlines
  • Have a great attitude, and are always willing to work on whatever is needed, even if it isn't glamorous
  • Other teammates look up to them as an informal leader now (either as a domain expertise on our software, or a subject matter expert in the technologies we use - obviously the first is easier to achieve with less experience or a more junior team)
  • Desire and ambition to do more; the best leaders have been the ones that when I ask them to do something they always come back with a result that exceeds my expectation
  • Are empathetic, they genuinely care about their teammates and want to see everyone be successful (this is actually the hardest trait for more junior ambitious candidates - they are not able to put their team first - after all great managers should never take credit and always take blame - and that is hard if you are a glory hog)
  • They are committed to the company and vision

There are likely other qualities as well, but these would be key in any leadership role. Almost everything else can be taught (from how to listen, to how to take/give critical feedback).

Hope this helps!

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    Not to be flippant but do you actually have any real world on the job experience. What you describe looks good in a text book, but doesn't even remotely approach what happens in the real world. Amazing at their job:) Most managers are mediocre to downright bad at software development. Thus, their desire to move into a management role. Your other bullet points have similar responses since they don't reflect the real world even a little.
    – Dunk
    Feb 28, 2012 at 22:58
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    "I will need them to estimate the work for their team" - in any agile shop, which isn't all but is many, the team does estimation, not the team lead. Feb 29, 2012 at 4:26

It depends on the make-up of the team and the individual leader.

An inexperienced team will need a leader with higher technical skills along with the ability, interpersonal skills, and respect to provide mentorship, make coding decisions and uphold standards.

More experienced teams may rely on a leader to handle more managerial tasks, so the others can focus on programming. A small group of highly skilled developers may operate more democratically, but when deadlocks occur, they need a leader who can mediate or just make the tough call.

The potential leader has to come to grips with giving up some of his/her personal coding time. It's a balancing act to get your work done, as well as, be availble to the team. Although no one wants to be micromanaged, it is frustrating to have a team leader so bogged-down in their work, they don't have time to be the leader when you need it.

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    +1 for "The potential leader has to come to grips with giving up some of his/her personal coding time". Ultimately, the time you have to code trends towards zero the longer you are a Lead (at least in my experience in the agency world). Feb 28, 2012 at 14:07

Adding to what Smokefoot already said, I don't think the experience is the main factor; the set of skills change, you'll need to have deeper project management knowledge, communication abilities, etc.

Experience is important for two reasons: to be accepted as a leader by the others, and to be comfortable with the products and processes of your company. But this is a prereq, not the decision factor, which should be the former items.

And after a certain threshold experience has diminishing returns for such a position. When you move from developer to team leader you'll hardly do any coding anymore, nor you'll have time to inspect what other less experienced developers did, so if you accumulated a lot of technical experience it'll be wasted when you're in a management role. In such cases there should be a position for senior system architecht, for instance, that'd be a best fit. THAT is definitely a case in which the more experience, the better.

The measure to check such things is a difficult issue. Courses attended, standardized tests that HR of big companies and specialized consulting firms apply can help, but they won't give a definitive answer about if someone is prepared or not for a given job. Also certifications like PMI help, but don't solve 100% of the problem. One possible approach would be, if the company is big enough for that, to have each candidate temporarily as a team leader for a small project, and later collect and compare the results.

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