Staff Engineer: Leadership beyond the management track by Will Larson

The technical leadership path is still under-documented.

At most technology companies, you’ll reach Senior Software Engineer, the career level for software engineers, in five to eight years. At that career level, you’ll no longer be required to work towards the next promotion, and being promoted beyond it is exceptional rather than expected. Should you stay there, move into engineering management, or continue down the path of technical excellence to become a Staff Engineer?

What are the skills you need to develop to reach Staff Engineer? Are technical abilities alone sufficient to reach and succeed in that role? How do most folks reach this role? What is your manager’s role in helping you along the way? Will you enjoy being a Staff Engineer or will you toil for years to achieve a role that doesn’t suit you? Staff Engineer: Leadership beyond the management track is a pragmatic look at attaining and operating in Staff engineering roles, building on the lived experience of folks who've walked before you.

Author

Staff Engineer is brought to you by the author of An Elegant Puzzle, with over 30,000 copies sold. If you enjoyed or found it useful, you'll enjoy this book as well.

Foreword written by Tanya Reilly, Principal engineer at Squarespace.

28 guides and 14 interviews

These guides cover the Staff engineer archetypes, how to identify what to work on as a Staff Engineer in Work on what matters, how to partner with your management chain in Stay aligned with authority, and tools for charting your promotion path in Promotion packets. Read how folks at Dropbox, Etsy, Slack, Stripe, and more carved their path to Staff-plus engineer.

Podcast episodes

Hear more about Staff Engineer on episodes of the Software Engineering Daily and Career Chats podcasts.

Reviews of Staff Engineer

"Becoming a Staff engineer is both a promotion and a job change; many immensely talented engineers pursue the first and arrive unprepared for the latter. Will Larson's Staff Engineer is a wide ranging and thought provoking overview of the many dimensions of the role.

As a software engineer at any level, this book will challenge you to become better and should be required reading if you're pursuing a Staff engineer role."

"It is not easy to find many resources on the staff engineer role which is still massively misunderstood due to wildly varying definitions and assumptions.

This book lays out some of the differing role definitions and then brings them to life with real case studies making it easy to map the archetypes to your own circumstances, passions and ambitions. This should be a go to resource for anyone thinking of pursuing the IC path or that has already moved into a senior IC role."

"In Staff Engineer, Will Larson does more than demystify the staff engineer role: he explains the whys and hows of long-term technical strategy, the power of sponsorship, and the responsibility that comes with having influence.

Throughout the book, he references inclusive studies, addresses realistic scenarios, and offers practical advice. Staff Engineer leaves me feeling more equipped for success as an engineering leader, but more than that, it leaves me feeling affirmed — it’s the first engineering leadership book I’ve read with over half its quotations from women."

Frequently Asked Questions

Will I like this book?

I think you will, yes! However, since we probably haven't met, I'm not a particularly good judge of that. Rather than trust me, read one of the sections available online (my favorites are Staff engineer archetypes and Work on what matters), and one or two of the interviews (I'd recommend Kasa's and Michelle's).

Why write this book?

There isn't much out there about being a senior technical leader outside of the management career track. As I've worked with more folks in Staff and Principal engineer roles, this lack of guidance became a point of friction for both them in self-directing their professional development and for me in trying to support their growth. I wrote this book to become a more effective partner for the Staff engineers I work with, and with the hope that it can help others who are chating their path to technical leadership within an organization that's still figuring out how to support them.

Are you the right author for this book?

The role and career of Staff engineers is a topic that deserves to be written about far more than it is written about! My hope is that this book is useful enough that more folks start to write about it, and hopefully quickly surpass this book with better, more useful books of their own.

Will this advice apply to my company?

Advice without context should always be taken with a grain of salt! This book is based on more than a dozen interviews with folks operating in Staff engineer, or equivalent, roles, along with my personal experience leading engineering organizations at Calm, Stripe, and Uber. My hope is that this broad perspective will make the book applicable to your experience, although aspects of the advice are undeniably United States-centric and Silicon Valley-centric.

Is this content available for free?

The vast majority of the writing included in this book is available for free on staffeng.com, and will continue to available for free indefinitely. The book's foreword and ending section are not available on the website.

There are also stories on staffeng.com that are not included within the book version.

Where are the profits from this book going?

All profits will be donated to non-profit organizations that work to increase access for underepresented communities in technology.

What formats? PDF? EPUB? MOBI? Print? Audio?

If you buy on Gumroad, you will get access to PDF, EPUB and MOBI versions of the book. If you buy on Amazon, you will get a standard Kindle digital book.

All copies are DRM-free.

Paperback is available on Amazon. Audio book is planned for Q2, 2021. There are currently no plans for a hardcover edition.

Where can I buy it?

You can buy the Early Edition on on Gumroad, available from January 28th, 2021. Early Edition includes a near-final version of the book, along with all future updates. The final version will be available on Gumroad from February 7th.

The paperback and digital version are also available on Amazon from February 5th.

Audiobook version is planned for later in 2021, available via Amazon.

How much does it cost?

Digital and print versions are offered at $25 USD. Audiobook isn't priced yet. Team and company licenses are available via Gumroad.

How can I report an issue or error?

Please use this form to report issues!

Staff Engineer

Learn how to navigate the technical leadership career while staying as an individual contributor. Understand the mechanics and consequences of moving from Senior Engineer to Staff Engineer. Get tools to determine the right next steps for your circumstances.