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Questions? Reach out to @lethain on twitter.


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'sThe 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.

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?


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?

These stories will establish role models for folks hoping to become Staff Engineers. Further, the "metadata" around these stories will help create transparency into the most effective ways to navigate this career path.

Finally, I hope to use those learnings to craft a small number of resources to help others draft their own map to Staff Engineer. What should you do in the first ninety days as a Staff Engineer? What are the highest leverage activities? What should you stop doing? What are the resources you can rely upon? Hopefully we can provide good resources for all of this.

Who am I?

I'm Will Larson, also known as @lethain on Twitter. I serve as CTO at Calm, blog at Irrational Exuberance, and wrote An Elegant Puzzle.

I've been fortunate to work with and coach a number of wonderful Staff-plus engineers, but I've always been a bit uncertain whether my advice was any good. I knew what I thought I needed from the team I was supporting, but was my approach effective? Was I helping their careers or guiding them towards submerged rocks that I couldn't quite see?

This project came out of the desire to have a clearer understanding of the Staff-plus role, to ensure organizations I work with or support create room for those roles, and to make me a better coach to the Staff-plus engineers I'm fortunate enough to work with.

Somewhat orthogonally, I also really enjoyed the pull arc of publishing An Elegant Puzzle, and wanted to start on a new project that could eventually lead to another book while addressing some of the areas I felt my first work could have been better in. Particularly, a more cohesive structure and moving beyond my own experiences to operate through a broader lens.

Want to help?

The best ways to help are sharing your story or simply sharing these stories out to folks who would benefit from them.

When I started working on this project, I wrote up some notes on how I'd determine this project's success, and a big part of that is the number of folks who reach out to say that these stories have helped them. If they've helped you, please let me know on Twitter at @lethain, or via email at lethain[at]gmail.

If you've enjoyed reading the stories and guides on, you might also enjoy Staff Engineer: Leadership beyond the management track, which features many of these guides and stories.

Staff Engineer book cover

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