Ways Staff and Principal Engineers get Stuck (and how to get Unstuck)
Common reasons why experienced engineers get stuck, how to prevent this from happening and how to get unstuck.
Q: I’ve joined a company as a staff engineer. I feel out of place and strangely stuck on how to be effective. How can I improve this situation?
In this issue, being ‘stuck’ means you feel you’re not making as much progress in your work or career as you should be. It may not be obvious why this is happening.
There are several ways engineers can get stuck and Camille Fournier, author of The Manager’s Path has an excellent article describing them; from engineers being forever stuck researching solutions, to working on side projects instead of the main ones.
I’ve observed some of the most experienced engineers on a team or in an organization to also get stuck, but in distinctly different ways from most software engineers.
This issue is written for both the managers of engineers and experienced engineers. As a manager, how can you spot when your staff or principal engineers are stuck, and how can you help? As an experienced engineer, what are things you can do to get unstuck?
Stuck during onboarding.
Stuck during the day-to-day.
Stuck growing career-wise.
Stuck due to organizational factors.
For the rest of this article I’ll use “staff engineer” referring to the most senior engineer in the organization. In your company, the exact title might be different; for example, tech lead, principal engineer, or another term.