The job title itself is quite vague, so many people are curious as to what a technical director actually does in an engineering context. To clear up any confusion and shed light on the best way to progress to this role, this article explains everything you need to know about the technical director responsibilities, how to become one and what daily tasks you can expect from the job.
What is a Technical Director?
A technical director is sometimes often referred to as a technical manager and is a senior member of a company who is in charge of making technical decisions and handling any administrative changes to do with technical aspects such as software, equipment and technical procedures. The technical director is in charge of implementing technical and engineering strategies to ensure that a business runs smoothly and that overall targets and standards are met.
Technical director jobs also involve providing guidance and identifying solutions when there are technical problems within a company, such as a project getting interrupted by malfunctioning software or a faulty system causing production delays. It is the technical director’s responsibility to solve these problems, either directly or by delegating the task to someone they know can fix the issue.
A technical director is sometimes also involved in hiring new employees who are involved in the technical side of the company, or promoting current employees who have particular technical expertise into new roles that have more of an impact on the business’ direction.
In the engineering industry, technical directors are most commonly found in businesses that deal with software development. They are responsible for ensuring that the software product reaches the market by dictating the development process, mitigating risks, establishing best practices and spearheading change when necessary to keep the company ahead of the curve.
What does a Technical Director Do?
There is a range of technical director jobs out there, even in the engineering industry, so some role requirements will vary depending on the size of the company, the department involved and the product or service offered. The variety of answers in response to the question ‘What does a technical director do?’ means that a lot of technical director job descriptions are very different.
However, most of the typical technical director responsibilities will be similar. Some of the most common are outlined below.
- Work alongside other company directors to develop overall business strategies and advise on technical progression in particular, sharing performance updates and suggesting new areas of improvement
- Act as a technical representative for the company when speaking with clients and any other external parties
- Communicate the technical vision of the company internally to staff and externally to potential clients and others in the industry
- Interview and evaluate new candidates for technical roles
- Ideate and sign-off technical strategies for new product development
- Manage the resources used by all those whose role falls under their technical area of expertise, such as the software development department, and control the budget allocated to these teams
- Oversee the development of new products or systems from initial ideation to market release, focusing on ensuring technical soundness and the efficient use of technical resources
- Understand user requirements for new products and establish criteria to assess this before the product is released
- Advise new project development teams on technical strategy and implement methods for tracking project progression
- Monitor the progress of projects and performance of employees to ensure that high technical standards are being met, work is completed efficiently, and hard work is rewarded
- Analyse potential technical risks before new business ventures and establish a risk assessment with preventative measures
- Research and build on existing knowledge of their sector and new developments within it to develop new processes and introduce tools that will lead to innovation and improve quality and reliability
- Advise other company departments on technical factors where relevant
- Collaborate with test engineers to advise on suitable testing procedures for new software, systems or devices
- Oversee the creation of design documentation and refine documents where necessary
As well as a general technical director role, there are a few other roles in the engineering industry that are more specialised.
Associate Technical Director
An associate technical director usually has the same kinds of technical director responsibilities, but they tend to come into the role from a more junior position. If you are aiming to be the lead technical director of a company then starting in an associate technical director role is an excellent way to get your foot in the door and progress from a relevant role.
Often, an associate will work with the lead technical director to complete all of the tasks outlined above, offering support and assistance when asked and taking initiative where they see they can make a difference.
Technical Design Director
A technical design director is a specialist role that carries out the same kinds of tasks as a regular technical director, but focuses even more specifically on the design aspects of the product or service a business is offering. They are often hired when a company has a dedicated technical design team and progress from a design engineer role, are head of this department and will work in collaboration with the overall technical director, if there is one.
How to Become a Technical Director
The roles of technical directors tend to be quite senior positions, so the route to becoming a technical director is a long one. However, there are a variety of different ways to get to this role, so it is relatively attainable no matter your background.
If you want to become an engineering director then you will need to begin your career by gaining an engineering qualification. For most people, this starts with a university degree, which you will need high grades in relevant A Level or equivalent qualifications to achieve.
You can study any engineering discipline to become a technical director in an engineering firm, but as a lot of positions are in software development companies, you may want to choose a degree in computer science, electronics engineering or applied physics.
It is also possible to gain equivalent higher education qualifications in engineering or computer science by completing apprenticeships or higher level diplomas.
Whilst having a Masters qualification is not a necessity to succeed in your career in the engineering industry, many engineering graduates who have completed an extra high of study find that they get more career opportunities and often have higher starting salaries. If you are hoping to progress to a technical director level, you may find that studying for a Masters helps you to get there faster.
Many engineering candidates have also found that undertaking relevant work experience or internships can help them in their career progression and highlight which areas of the industry they want to work in.
There are no specific technical director qualifications that are needed to reach the role, as it is often the result of several promotions at a company. Instead, the training you need for the role tends to be gained through experience working in more junior positions, such as a technical lead, project manager, engineering lead or associate technical director.
Depending on the industry, additional training to supplement the position of a technical director may be required, such as learning how to use new platforms or programs, honing coding or programming skills, and keeping up-to-date with the latest advancements in the technology used in your sector. It is also common for technical directors to attend seminars, conferences and workshops that are relevant to their area of expertise to learn more about new trends and ensure that their place of employment remains competitive with the technology they use.
Technical Director Career Progression
No matter which sector of the industry you work in, most technical directors start their careers in junior engineering roles. For the first few years of your career, it is common to move around employers as you figure out the type of engineer that suits you best, potentially receiving a promotion or gaining more responsibility than an engineering graduate.
Before taking on technical director responsibilities, you will need experience being in charge of other engineers and having the kind of responsibility that means you make decisions that will impact the business you work for. Career progression that grows in responsibility could look like getting chosen as a project manager, then becoming a technical lead or a senior engineer in your department, and finally getting promoted to an associate director/manager or a technical manager/director.
This kind of career progression can take around a decade even if you are incredibly successful, so it’s not a role you can go into overnight.
Technical Director Skills
As well as the necessary educational training and workplace experience, there is a range of skills that will help you to succeed in a technical director career. Some of the most important are listed below.
Whilst you may not directly be involved in projects developing new software, programs or devices, as a technical director you will still be responsible for finding solutions to any technical problems that other employees come across in their work. Having strong troubleshooting skills and experience finding solutions to a range of technical problems will be a big benefit in this role, as others will look to you for guidance and you will also be responsible for mitigating risk by implementing ‘safe’ procedures.
As a technical director is a senior position, you will benefit from having good leadership skills to meet a range of the demands of the role. Confidence, experience taking charge of others, conviction, presentation skills and good interpersonal skills are all traits of a successful leader and are all things that employers will be looking out for when sourcing potential technical directors.
Whilst leadership is an essential element of being a technical director, collaboration is a skill that is just as important. You will likely have to work with a range of different members of a business as part of the role, whether as an advisor or a direct collaborator on a project, and so the ability to work well and share ideas with others is very useful.
Communication comes into every part of the role of a technical director, from liaising with clients to conducting meetings with other senior team members and sharing your knowledge or offering guidance on new technical endeavours. Verbal communication skills are particularly important, but many technical directors get involved with writing design specifications or testing procedures, and you’ll need to be able to clearly communicate here as well.
Finally, as a technical director you are responsible for implementing and overseeing a range of different projects and business ventures, all of which need to be completed for deadlines and meet certain safety and quality standards. Keeping track of all of this whilst also finding the time to build on your existing technical knowledge and progress in your career requires excellent organisation skills so that nothing falls off your radar and all tasks get completed on time and to a high standard.
The role of technical director is common in the software development sector of the engineering industry, and as embedded software and electronics software recruitment specialists, we see plenty of companies looking for candidates to fill this role. The requirements of the job are different for every business, but that’s what makes the role such an exciting opportunity that allows candidates to bring their own experience and ideas.
If you’re an employer in the embedded systems industry that is looking for specialist help with hiring technical directors, or an engineer looking for a senior role such as this one, get in touch and find out more about how our recruitment agency can help you.