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What are the roles in a software development team?

Who's involved in a software development project? A whole list of jobs can pop to your head - but what do people of all these roles actually bring to the table?
In this article, we're having a look at the roles that may be included in software development teams, exploring the tasks they fulfill, and providing a list of tips to build a successful dev team.

Software development team roles

In any software project, the roles can vary, and that's natural. Let's remember that the composition of your team should be above all adjusted to your current needs, nothing more, nothing less.

Below, we're listing common roles in the software development process, some, or perhaps even all, of which may be the right fit for your needs.

Software engineer

Let's start with the most obvious role. No software gets built without the fairy dust of some skilled software engineers. Well, it's not that much of fairy dust to be truthful and more about skills, experience, and critical thinking, but that's still a definitive must-have in any system development.

What do they do?

They code, put simply. That's the essential element of their job, but that's not all: they also gather requirements, prepare project roadmaps, plan teamwork, communicate progress, collect and act on feedback. You can see their exact competencies & how they put them into their work in the article about our software development process here.

Depending on the seniority level - junior, mid, senior - they will have different sets of responsibilities, and in bigger teams, you will often have a mix of developers with different levels of experience.

Software engineers program in a variety of programming languages, such as Scala or Java, popular and efficient languages for the backend, JavaScript/TypeScript for the frontend, or Python e.g. in machine learning (and other) use cases. Additionally, there is a plethora of frameworks and tools used in any of these languages, so we have Akka, Spark, Micronaut, Quarkus, React, Vue, PyTorch, and many, many more. The choice of a given technology should be dictated by the business needs and requirements, your team’s expertise and technical preferences. In our projects, we always look for the best tech stack to do the job.

You can read more about many of these on our tech blog:
CTA-tech-blog

DevOps engineer

Put very simply, DevOps engineers work with software developers to oversee code releases and deployments and streamline software creation.
According to Atlassian, the role of DevOps is crucial:

"Nearly all (99%) of respondents said DevOps has had a positive impact on their organization, according to the 2020 DevOps Trends Survey. Teams that practice DevOps ship better work faster, streamline incident responses, and improve collaboration and communication across teams."

Ian Buchanan, Principal Solutions Engineer for Atlassian

What do they do?

DevOps engineers' responsibilities span many departments and refer to the organization of teams’ work: they contribute to project management, assessing risk and setting operational expectations, they review the code, manage the infrastructure, review system logs to identify issues, make sure that data is secure - and that's just to name a few things they've got on their plate. In some teams, DevOps specialists don’t handle writing the software itself, but the role is rather flexible, so sometimes a DevOps engineer can contribute to the code, too.

Technology-specific engineers: ML, blockchain

In some software development projects, you may also need tech-specific roles, e.g. machine learning or blockchain engineers. Of course, this is only necessary when your product requires ML-based or blockchain functionalities.

While many ML (as well as blockchain) engineers have a strong background in backend development, it doesn't mean that any backend developer will easily develop ML solutions. In machine learning projects, programming, science, and business worlds collide, so it requires a team with diverse skills to bring an ML project to life: data science, data engineering, ML modeling, MLOps.

What do they do?

In case of the engineering roles that focus on the use of a given technology, like ML or blockchain, the engineers often go much further than just coding: they analyze the client's problem, suggest various solutions, validate ideas, create project roadmaps, provide guidance, or build PoCs (proof of concept).

You can learn more about how we approach PoC development in these posts:

CTA-what-is-PoC

  • Do you need a machine learning PoC? - published on the site of our ML department - ReasonField Lab - covering the advantages of the PoC in ML projects and the path such projects follow

QA engineer

In some companies also under the names of "testers" of many kinds, though these jobs are not exactly the same. A quality assurance (QA) engineer's job is to identify issues with the product before its launch, and prevent flaws from going to production - and that translates into improving the quality of the delivered software.

What do they do?

QA team members monitor all phases of the software development process, from design, through coding, to delivery. Their job is to ensure the proper software quality in order to meet the requirements. To do that, they create standards to follow, implement tests, analyze and communicate results, and suggest improvements.

Tech lead

Not to be mistaken with a team lead - who can play a very different, more team spirit oriented role. A tech lead is a person who is very experienced technically and provides guidance, supports the creation of the project's path, and makes sure that all hardware needs are met.

The tech lead's role may be different in various projects - or even non-existent, depending on the individual project's needs. The extent to which the lead is engaged in the project itself is determined by the client & team when agreeing on the project scope.

If there is no official tech lead on a team, however, it doesn't mean there is no leader at all. In cases when the tech lead is not necessary, a senior developer will often assume a leadership role.

UX/UI designer

While some roles combine UI & UX, these two can also be separate roles. UX - user experience- design translates into a design that's intuitive, smooth, easy to navigate for the user. UI - user interface - design is tied to software development and means creating what the software will look and feel like.

What do they do?

As mentioned above, these roles can be separate, but very often you'll find UX/UI designers on your team who have a mix of the relevant skills for both these jobs. A UI/UX designer creates product wireframes, translates users' needs into software, designs the looks of the application and how it should be navigated. They are creative thinkers but also need analytical skills to test their solutions and adjust them based on data.

Project manager

Present in some, but not all projects. How so? The approach to project management varies depending on the organization, its methodologies and habits. While some teams need and like having someone to support them with management, others are self-organizing and split the management responsibilities among team members depending on their experience, talents, and preferences.

What do they do?

Project managers need organizational skills and need to know how to be leaders - to manage, but not micromanage or limit, their teams. They're responsible for planning work, breaking it into achievable chunks, handling planning meetings, feedback, demos, managing communications with the team and the client, and coordinating teamwork.

In self-organizing teams, team members handle the necessary tasks on their own, still making use of the good practices of project management: making sure they plan their work, prioritize, collaborate, and communicate regularly to talk through any issues, report on progress, share milestones.

In an interview on our blog, we talk to Maciej Adamiak about project management in ML projects and self-organization:
Building a successful, self-managed ML team

CTA-self-managed-ML-team

These are not all the roles that may be included in your software development project. You can also need the support of a business analyst, product owner, scrum master, manual tester - and again, that's all dependent on your requirements and needs. Our list includes the most common roles present in many software projects. But whoever is on your team, there is one more essential element: getting them to become a TEAM, not a group of individuals.

How to build an efficient software development team

1. Consider what roles are necessary

And make sure to cover all the skills that you need. Thinking about this early in the process will prevent you from spending money on people whose roles are unclear but also from burdening your team members with too much work - or even work out of their expertise. If you're unsure about who you need, be open about it and ask your development partner or current team members for their suggestions.

2. Agree on the scope, practices, and goals

Tell them everything they need to know: discuss the project scope, features, tasks, work planning, backlog management, communication rules, etc. - literally everything that is relevant to you. When you make sure you're all on the same page, it's much easier to prevent mistakes and misunderstandings.

3. Look further than next door

That's now obvious to many organizations, but still an important point: hiring is tough, so if the location is not an absolute must, opt for remote workers. This way, you gain access to more talent, and ever since the pandemic, remote work has become the standard, so more and more people know how to work well in a home office setting.

If you have doubts about whether remote work is efficient, check out this article on our blog - and we know what we're talking about, we've been remote for over 12 years!

4. Create a good work environment

Meaning: access to all tools and know-how but also making sure they've got the right equipment, a go-to person in case of questions, regular feedback, planning sessions, and time to exchange thoughts. It's not about fruit Tuesdays or other "benefits", but about mutual respect, trust, and efficient collaboration.

5. Value communication

That's an extremely important part of working with people. Rule number 1 is to communicate regularly. The frequency of contact will be established by the parties involved, but make sure you have that time to talk, not just call each other in case of emergency. Discuss project details, define goals, describe expectations, hold retrospectives, allow for questions, and encourage regular feedback. It's not that easy, but all the effort put into improving communication between team members is totally worth it.

Learn more about soft skills in software development projects on our blog

Summary

A good team is a key to success, but to build one, you need to put in some thought and effort. You need to consider what skills are required in your project and once your team is assembled, ensure they have a good environment to encourage collaboration and focus. Don't worry, though, you don't have to be in charge of it all - you're a team now, and you share responsibilities, doubts, questions, as well as successes. Good luck!

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