What is a Staff+ Engineer?
What the Staff+ role is, expectations and the rewarding and frustrating parts of the job. By former principal engineer Nicky Wrightson.
Q: I’m a software engineer and would like to get to the Staff+ level, one day. What do I need to know about this role?
Staff engineer is the software engineering level which follows senior engineer at Big Tech and at companies which want a position for individual contributors (ICs) of greater scope than “senior.” Staff+ engineers refer to the positions at or above the Staff level: these are typically Staff, Senior Staff, Principal, Senior Principal, Distinguished or Fellow titles.
We’ve touched on the Staff+ role in previous articles:
Engineering career paths at Big Tech and high-growth startups: covering the typical individual contributor career path to Staff engineer.
Engineering leadership skill set overlaps: similarities and differences between Staff and engineering management.
Ways that Staff and Principal engineers get stuck - and how to get unstuck: focusing on onboarding, the day-to-day, growing your career, and the organisational factors which lead to people getting stuck.
But we’re yet to do a deep dive into the Staff+ engineer role – until now, that is. I cannot think of anyone better to tackle this issue than a long-time Staff+ engineer. So, I turned to Nicky Wrightson, Head of Engineering at Topi, who’s been a software engineer for close to two decades, including working as a Principal Engineer for six years combined at the Financial Times (FT) and Skyscanner.
In this article, Nicky shares her learnings and reflections about the role. We cover:
What is the staff+ role? Why do companies have this position, how does it differ from a senior engineer role, and what are the different levels?
Expectations. What changes from being a senior engineer? And what does the day-to-day work look like?
Rewarding parts of this role. Delivering beyond team boundaries, the people side of it, and wider breadth of involvement.
Frustrations and how to mitigate them. Failures of influence, varying expectations, imposter syndrome and more.
With that, it’s over to Nicky: