til staff engineer archetypes

It’s nearly that time of year again when we do our reflections. So here I am renewing the expectations of my role as a staff engineer. I am writing this largely for myself to think through my understanding. Because if I cannot explain it, I don’t understand it.

Being a Staff-engineer is not just a role. It’s the intersection of the role, your behavior, your impact, and the organization’s recognition of all those things.

Once you reach that 10+ year experience mark, progression can stay technical and thus staff engineer—as opposed to a manager. At this point, most engineers traveled their journey, have their mode of impact, and have their way of working.

We are all different people, who bring our impact to the table, so rather than one set of expectations for the role, Staff Engineer Archetypes describes four archetypes—or personas—that break the role down into smaller groups that provide a framework for how to think about the role. They are the Tech Lead, the Architect, the Solver, and the Right Hand.

… worth noting here, it is most definitely okay to stay a senior engineer and not progress.

Quite importantly, a staff engineer is there to help further the business objectives, in whatever form that takes. It doesn’t mean you call the shots now. It means you should be even more aligned with business objectives and not necessarily your own.

The staffeng.com article describes these four archetypes in detail, but here is my understanding:

What I love here is that they form a pretty nice Venn diagram of core competencies, because of this you may find you resonate with a particular archetype, with more than one, or even jump between them from one season to another.

Staff engineers should all have these underlying qualities though: