Staff Engineer

Notes from the book Staff Engineer by Will Larson


Archetypes of staff engineers

  • Tech lead, partners closely with a PM or EM to coordinate work on the team. Works with other teams
  • Architect, responsible for success of specific technical domain, e.g. a public API, the frontend stack, storage strategy, cloud infrastructure
  • Solver, handles deep technical problems
  • Right hand, partners closely with leadership, helps scale a leader’s impact

Operating at Staff

Work on what matters

  • Avoid snacking. It’s tempting to get distracted by low impact work. This work might be a good development opportunity for others.
  • Avoid preening. A subcategory of snacking that is high visibility work that’s low impact.
  • Work where there’s room and attention. Things that will become critical in the future.
  • Help develop the team around you (onboarding, hiring)
  • Finish things. Close out and ship projects.

Write an engineering strategy

  • Good engineering strategies are often boring
  • Strategies are tools for alignment that allow a team to make decisions efficiently
  • Synthesize multiple (5) RFCs into a strategy
  • Extrapolate multiple (5) strategies into a vision
  • Visions are two to three years out
  • A great vision should feel obvious

Curate technical quality

Stay aligned with authority

To lead, you have to follow

Learn to never be wrong

Create space for others

Build a network of peers

Getting the title where you are

Deciding to switch companies