I'm hoping to pivot into gen-AI companies later this year. I'm wondering if anyone/know of any who has done it? Not necessarily doing it for the immediate $$$$$, although it is certainly highly motivating too.
Looking to start a private group on this if people are interested in sharing network/resources. The goal is to land in OpenAI, Anthropic, Cohere, Adept, etc within next 6 month to capitalize on the wave ASAP. Focus is on getting foot into the door via whatever means necessarily (Leetcode/System Design/Building LLM projects at work/Networking). The wave is too good to ignore currently.
I'm personally not a fan of pivoting into a trendy space unless you genuinely have a deep passion and conviction in it. For example, most of the engineers who pivoted into blockchain/crypto companies either have worthless equity or no job at all. Here's a good discussion about this: "The AI frenzy is really making me rethink my career - What direction should I take?"
If you're looking to pivot into AI/ML and aren't an MLE already, I recommend this: "How to transition from back-end development to distributed systems?"
All that being said, there's a pretty legit interview group for folks at your level. Here's the last event they did (you can reach out to the event owner on LinkedIn): [Senior-to-Staff] Study Group Kickoff
Even though it's senior to staff, the group has a lot of folks already leveled at Staff and the goal is to get L6+ offers at Tier 1 companies.
On a very tactical note, Meta is ramping up hiring again and is making extremely competitive offers as they have historically always done. Someone in the Taro community just got a 500k TC offer (!!!) for E5. Since you're staff, you could get an E6 offer which would be even higher (assuming you're in the US). Best of luck!
Do you only want the big guys? (e.g. $1B+ valuation)
Those companies have so much attention and press that it'll be challenging to break through. You'll have more luck targeting smaller companies, Series A/B, or maybe even Seed.
This one comes to mind (they were in our batch of YC, and they have tons of traction already): https://www.ycombinator.com/companies/phind
Understand the concern, but yes, pretty much just OpenAI/Anthropic. The conviction is sufficiently high enough, and am convinced that only they manage to recruit the true top talent.
I've been in AI / Data Science since 2014--I've thought about "distributed systems' was the only thing I had any remote interest in at Singularity University after a friend (now another retired crypto millionaire) recommended I apply for the same program--so I personally I hate seeing this when a lot of people try to also pivot to a 'hot and trendy space' without having much background and invest really shallowly into the space. It takes a lot of time to learn this stack, and while this is the ONE big time product engineers may have a one-up for some startups given that the barrier to entry has dropped significantly, companies building foundation models definitely have a lot of top researchers and PhDs competing in this space so they're going to be recruiting top talent and can smell a lot of n00bs a mile away that haven't put in the work.
Personally, I don't know if leetcode will help that much tbh, while I'm sure it's a helpful nice-to-have and say that it means you're smart and can write code fast and more efficient than others, people look at quality here, not just speed. You listed a lot of things, whcih you can apply to any job search and so it seems a bit generic (everyone networks, everyone is building an LLM project). Are you releasing an GPT, an app on the app store? People do want to see more traction at some of these places, and in open source actually being used, not just that you've built something 'impressive.'
Firstoff, knowing first hand lots of friends that work at all the companies you listed below, who funds/invests in them, and various insider cultures-know-how and gossip, once you know more of that, you might actually think twice about just applying to those companies without REALLY knowing more about it.
That being said, I will echo everything Alex and Rahul said. There are smaller companies in AI that are worth taking a look at, would be easier to get into, and where you can have more of an impact. What I would also say for any of those companies, it really depends on what you focus on. Ex. working on inference, vs research engineering vs product are all VERY different things and differs between different companies working on foundation models vs other places. I have friends that worked at Google making data visualizations for the Deepmind and other AI teams, that are now at stability.ai and other places, their titles are 'staff engineer,' so it's pretty broad where you can focus on, what I would do is to find your niche so to speak and I can't tell since your title is 'staff software engineer,' and each of these companies is looking for something different.
I think knowing less about your background, but seeing 'staff engineer,' you'd really have to make the case for yourself on what exactly you'd be great at solving that their current engineers on their team can't solve based on their company structure/departments etc. there's different division of labor at each of these companies and other AI companies.