Staff Engineer is a recent book that covers a topic that interests me a lot. For engineering positions, the difference between a developer and a senior developer is relatively well understood. But, what comes next? Let’s say you want to progress in your career without taking a more managerial position. What are the expectations?
This is the question that this book answers. It’s a treaty on the staff engineer position, a tech leadership position. It’s a must-read if you want to understand it in more depth. It not only contains a lot of information but also quite a few interviews with senior tech leaders from various well-known companies.
The Uncertainty of Tech Leadership
I touched on this in my article about a Team Lead’s responsibilities. It seems every organization has its understanding of these roles and their domains. BigTech (and similar) companies use a dual ladder:
- The management part is owned by an Engineering Manager.
- The technology belongs to a Staff Engineer.
Boundaries are never quite so clear in practice. Still, it’s a departure from organizations that pigeonhole experienced folks as managers, whether they like it or not.
I particularly like talking about servant leadership. A technical leader helps create technology, processes, and practices that make those around them more effective. If you see your contribution as something restricted to yourself, the organization might not see you as a staff engineer.
Getting to Staff
Getting a position is a process that usually starts years before any promotion. You need to work on the right things, build the right package, maybe even change companies in between. It’s a path full of implicit context and unstated assumptions. It’s cool to see some actionable steps written down.
Keep this in mind: there are no guarantees! Having enough years of experience or tenure won’t ensure your promotion to staff. You have to be active in getting there.
This book crystalizes what the Staff Engineer role is about. It’s especially important if you’re part of an organization copying the BigTech model. Nowadays, that covers most of the high-prestige positions in the software industry, which makes it quite relevant.
Status aside, it’s just a pretty interesting read. Tech leadership is a hard concept to define. Don’t settle for a categorical statement like telling other developers what to do. If it lacks nuance, it’s probably flawed. It’s nice to see the experience from folks that have significantly different backgrounds and experiences. It gets ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ stars from me.
An added plus is that most of the resources are available online so that you can come back to them every time you want.