At most technology companies, you'll reach Senior Software Engineer, the career level, in five to eight years. At that point your path branches, and you have the opportunity to pursue engineering management or continue down the path of technical excellence to become a Staff Engineer.
Over the past few years we've seen a flurry of books unlocking the engineering manager career path, like Camille Fournier's The Manager's Path, Julie Zhuo's The Making of a Manager and my own An Elegant Puzzle. The management career isn't an easy one, but increasingly there is a map available.
- Duretti Hirpa - Formerly Staff Engineer at Mailchimp
- Bert Fan - Senior Staff Engineer at Slack
- Michelle Bu - Payments Product Tech lead at Stripe
- Alex Kessinger - Principal Engineer at Stitch Fix
- John Zittlau - Principal Engineer at Jobber
The transition into Staff Engineer, and its further evolutions like Principal Engineer, remains particularly challenging and undocumented. What are the skills you need to develop to reach Staff Engineer? What skills do you need to succeed after you've reached it? How do most folks reach this role? What can companies do to streamline the path to Staff Engineer? Will you enjoy being a Staff Engineer or toil for years for a role that doesn't suit you?
- Work on what matters
- Staying aligned with authority
- Promotion packets
- Manage technical quality
- Engineering strategy
- Present to executives
- What do Staff engineers actually do?
The StaffEng project aims to collect the stories of folks who are operating in Staff, Principal or Distinguished Engineer roles. How did you get there? What were your lucky breaks? How did you learn to be effective? As more of these stories are collected, I hope to build a dataset that helps folks draw their own map to Staff Engineer.
If you've enjoyed reading the stories and guides on
staffeng.com, you might also enjoy Staff Engineer: Leadership beyond the management track, which features many of these guides and stories.