The Role of a Technical Director

2 minute read

This is the first in a series of posts I plan to write that share my experiences and views on leadership in technology.

Please note that this article is written in the context of a marketing agency environment.

I read an article recently by Igor Clark titled Why We’re Not Hiring Creative Technologists and I thought the piece was well written and accurate. The issues he describes are pretty well known but until now nobody has really highlighted them with this degree of traction.

What the article failed to identify was that these problems are wide spread and span across many roles within an agency.

After reading Igor’s article I was inspired to write about my own experiences with a role that suffers similar issues – The Technical Director.

When I left Big Communications Group I had the [impossible] job of finding a replacement while I worked my notice period. During that time I interviewed well over twenty candidates and trawled through an endless amount of CV’s. During this painful experience I interviewed a wide range of people from Senior Developers to Technical Leads to Development Managers to Technical Directors. It soon became apparent that it was very difficult to recruit someone that could cover the roles and responsibilities I had.

There were two main categories of candidate, the first being developers that were really competent or even experts in programming, architecting etc. but didn’t have the aptitude to manage teams or consult with clients. The second being managers that had not coded before or had given up coding due to their new management responsibilities.

My biggest gripe is with the latter group mentioned. I don’t believe that you can be an effective Technical Director if you don’t keep abreast of the technology. We all know that the industry we’re in moves faster that Usain Bolt being chased by a Rottweiler and keeping up with it is a full time job in itself but on how earth can you be expected to mentor, scope, estimate or consult if you’re not up to speed?

This problem isn’t just confined to the recruitment process; I’ve met many Technical Directors across the country with many suffering the same symptoms.

For example, let’s say that the TD for your agency has a pure client facing role and is responsible for consulting, new business pitches etc. and is chatting to a client about their problems or projects. As part of this discussion certain questions may be raised about the direction, approach or architecture of project and if the TD’s technical knowledge is limited or out of date then the discussion can’t progress and conclude without the need to consult with the development team. This can lead to a lost opportunity.

Depending on the agency (with the main differentiator being size) the Technical Director doesn’t actually do any coding day-to-day. This means that the TD needs to watch, read, learn and code in their spare time. Now believe me this isn’t easy, especially if you have a young family or active social life (or both if you’re lucky) but it can be done and in fact if you’re passionate about the industry it’s actually easier than you might think.

If you’re looking to recruit a Technical Director or if you’re a developer or development manager looking to move into this role then you may be wondering what a TD should know. In a future post I’ll cover off the things a typical TD will cover.