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How A Distinguished Engineer Can Grow Their Career

Distinguished Engineers are the top-most level on the engineering career ladder. They are expected to be involved with critical company-wide initiatives that may also have implications for the entire industry.

What makes a staff engineer from a technical perspective?

Anonymous User at Taro Community profile pic
Anonymous User at Taro Community

I have about 5 YOE and trying to grow from Senior -> Staff engineer but noticing that the path is taking longer than I'd hope.

This is the case whether I try to speak to other companies and ask about interviewing at that level or try to grow within my own company.

Within my own company: Requirements unclear, seems to be more time based (just keep on shipping). Since we're on the smaller side, we don't have a clearly defined structure like FAANG.

Externally: Due to the YOE, usually discussion of Staff isn't even an option even though I think I'm doing Staff level work. In fact, they usually decline the idea before even having a chance to explain what I'm working on.

The projects I'm working on span the entire org (startup), I have multiple mentees, and org-wide impact. I will be honest and say that I don't think the projects I work on are necessarily insanely technically complex (not going out to millions of users, dealing with hyper concurrency issues, or needing to deal with large scalability issues), but they do have a large amount of scope and senior+ level management required to run them.

I think from the project management perspective, I have things nailed down pretty well.

So I wonder if I'm either missing...

  • YOE - Just some sort of arbitrary minimum that is being placed across the board for certain levels to be achieved
  • Technical expertise - I definitely admit that I'm not necessarily INSANELY technical. For example, I can admit gaps like: I don't know how to design a concurrent document editing system like Google docs, or I wouldn't be able to write a live streaming service without reading up on the proper documentation and understanding better how those systems work. Are things like this a requirement to be a staff engineer? To just be more aware or know right away how various systems like this are designed, without needing to do research beforehand?

I'm essentially trying to understand what my gaps might be, and the technical aspect is one I'm unsure about how relevant it is.

Would appreciate any thoughts, especially from Staff+ engineers, maybe sharing what they feel makes them a Staff vs a Senior and how much technical skills play a role vs other elements.

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