Frequently when a group of Staff-plus engineers sit down to chat, they’ll spend time commiserating about the industry’s broken technical leadership track. It’s true; it is broken. What isn’t true is that this is inevitable. The industry’s views on technical leadership are the summation of the collective daily actions taken by each person operating in, aspiring towards, or managing a Staff-plus engineer role. By changing our habits and approach, we will change the industry.
By improving ourselves, we make the industry better. Make a plan to sponsor someone else in your organization. Synthesize a strategy document, taking the time to make others feel heard. Build a network of peers, and invite more folks into that network. As you do that work, your engineering organization will learn from your example.
Your manager and management chain will learn from your example as well. Many managers have never worked with an effective Staff-plus engineer. They instead view the role through the lens of a previous disaster. Partner with them to understand their priorities and concerns to build alignment. Hold yourself accountable to the same pressures your manager experiences. Work through their fear of what could go wrong, and create excitement for how much can go right.
Does it feel odd to talk about fearing Staff-plus roles? It does, but it’s unavoidable. At most companies, the primary factor preventing the adoption of an impactful Staff-plus role is the fear of creating a tyrannical architect. That fear is driven by their previous experiences with inept and poorly managed technical leaders. This fear will only subside as we collectively replenish the groundwater of good Staff-plus role models.
My hope is that reading Staff Engineer has given you a map to follow towards a rewarding Staff-plus career or inspired you to keep walking the path of your own that you’ve already found. The software technology industry is still in its infancy, and what it becomes is wholly in our hands.