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 you will 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.
Read how folks at Dropbox, Etsy, Slack, Stripe, and more carved their path to Staff engineer.
Staff Engineer is brought to you by the author of An Elegant Puzzle. If you enjoyed or found it useful, you'll enjoy this book as well. (If you hated that book, you'll probably hate this one too.)
"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."
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
All profits will be donated to non-profit organizations that work to increase access for underepresented communities in technology.
You can preorder the Early Edition on on Gumroad, which will be available January 31st, 2021, and include an earlier version of the book along with the final version once it's available.
The final digital version is also available for preorder on Amazon.
Print and audio versions are planned for later in 2021, available via Amazon.
Digital version is offered at $25 USD. Prices for other formats are still being determined. Team and company licenses are available via Gumroad.
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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.