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How A Staff Engineer Can Grow Their Career

Staff engineers are extremely vital to any engineering team, viewing the landscape from the overall team charter level instead of individual projects.

Finding more scope internally vs. swapping company

Mid-Level Data Engineer [L4] at Google profile pic
Mid-Level Data Engineer [L4] at Google

I've been a Data Engineer for most of my career and my observation is that scope as a Data Engineer can plateau and therefore I see a lot more L4/5 DE's than L6+. I think it is because you don't impact the bottom line directly and regularly.

At FAANG's I've worked at so far, finding new scope can be difficult even when you are working with stakeholders: it is "easier" to scope/build a product (i.e. SWE work) and show metrics of success to add value vs building a data pipeline which may be limited to them having a reporting need for example which often isn't the case especially in a more established firm.

I moved into a partner facing DE role to help more with scope/stakeholder exposure. The highest impact project I worked on so far is influencing an internal team to change the way we measure a particular metric. This involved mostly stakeholder management and nothing more complex than SQL queries from a technical standpoint. While it was fulfilling, this is also something I 'stumbled' upon and is rare due to challenges like partner scope/vision is limited/slow (their leadership can change and therefore you projects/ideas can), technical challenges of automating things because of larger concerns (e.g. privacy, lack of infra on their side which you have no control over) and so on (you generally have even less control than an internal DE).

In my current role, I am generally able to derive projects, but (in my opinion) they are limited in scope/value: i.e. build a pipeline, deliver an analysis. Therefore, even though the projects 'ticks the boxes' for an L5, it is not really driving a 'transformation' as an L6+ would. I also directly asked my manager what are some of the hardest problems we have, and have been told we have a lot, yet, I'm not hearing or seeing them.

Given the situation, would you:

  1. Move to a SWE role internally at FAANG for a more established path 'up' (not sure this resolves the scope problem especially at FAANG as I think SWE-DE's can almost be even harder to get to L6+ on because they generally lack stakeholder visibility and focus on more top down work?).
  2. Seek roles outside of FAANG where the scope of the work is already scoped to L6+ e.g. Airbnb so the 'heavy lifting' has been done in terms of scope.
  3. Refine your scoping strategy within you own team, and if so, how?

Note: my motivation is to thrive at work, this isn't for a promo, just incase the post comes across as promo-focused. :)

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Please provide great onboarding questions for a new hire

Staff Software Engineer [E6] at Meta profile pic
Staff Software Engineer [E6] at Meta
  1. Team Charter: Overview of our mission and values?
  2. Milestones: Key goals for 2 weeks, 2 months, 6 months - clear success indicators?
  3. Key Contacts: Priority teams and individuals for relationship-building; schedule meetings? Essential tech leads and engineers contacts for insights across the org?
  4. Priorities: Weekly/quarterly priorities and alignment with company goals?
  5. Challenges: Major team challenges and my role in addressing them?
  6. Time Allocation: Expected distribution of my time across tasks?
  7. Learning Resources: Key documents or experiments to review?
  8. Project Ideas: Prospective projects and their scope (T-shirt sizing)?
  9. Performance Criteria: Access to the performance and progression rubric?
  10. Meeting Cadence: Preferred frequency for one-on-one meetings with manager, skip and peers?
  11. Feedback Schedule: Ideal timing for feedback sessions for peers, manager, and skip?
  12. Communication Preference: Written or verbal communication preference? Anything else?
  13. Asking for Help: Procedure and contact for assistance; onboarding buddy?
  14. Proactivity & Dynamics: Steps to proactivity and understanding organizational dynamics?
  15. Current Focus: Main current team issue or project?
  16. Recent & Future Work: Recent achievements and future plans (month, quarter, year)?
  17. Innovation Opportunities: Any tool/process gaps I can fill with a new solution?
  18. Team Charter Feedback: My understanding of our mission and KPIs; do you agree?
  19. People to Meet: List of essential PM's and people to influence across org teams.
  20. Project Ideas: Observations and potential impact with rough T-shirt sizing.

Anything else, also please reply if you were my manager if you can Alex + Rahul?

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Explain day-to-day operations and decision-making in Meta

Staff Software Engineer [E6] at Meta profile pic
Staff Software Engineer [E6] at Meta

What is the prevailing culture within the organization, and how does it manifest in day-to-day operations and decision-making? The prevailing culture within an organization is the shared values, beliefs, norms, and practices that shape the social and psychological environment of a business. This culture influences employee behavior, motivates management styles, and affects decision-making processes. What are those for Meta?

What are the hidden things to notice and to worry about? For example:

  1. Cliques and Silos: Pay attention to the formation of exclusive groups or departments unwilling to share information. This can indicate a fragmented culture that hinders collaboration.

  2. Resistance to Change: If there is noticeable resistance to new ideas or changes in procedure, the culture may be rigid and resistant to innovation.

  3. Overwork and Burnout: A culture that consistently expects long hours and overwork may prioritize short-term gains over long-term employee well-being and sustainability.

  4. Turnover Rates: High employee turnover can be a red flag for issues within the organizational culture such as lack of growth opportunities, poor management, or a toxic work environment.

  5. Office Politics: Pay attention to how much politics influence decisions and progress. A culture heavily influenced by politics rather than merit can demotivate employees.

  6. Feedback Mechanisms: Lack of mechanisms for providing constructive feedback, or a culture where feedback is ignored, can indicate a culture not open to self-improvement or employee development.

  7. Diversity and Inclusion: Observe whether the organization actively supports diversity and inclusion, not just in policy but in practice, reflecting a culture of respect and equality.

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How to approach politics in organization like Meta?

Staff Software Engineer [E6] at Meta profile pic
Staff Software Engineer [E6] at Meta
  1. What are the key relationships you need to develop to increase your influence within the organization?

  2. How can you demonstrate your expertise and value to others without stepping on toes or appearing overly ambitious?

  3. What are the unmet needs or pain points within the organization that you can address to gain credibility and visibility?

  4. How can you leverage the principles of reciprocity and mutual benefit to build alliances across different teams or departments?

  5. What communication strategies can you employ to effectively share your ideas and persuade others without formal authority?

Fitting into an Established Organization:

  1. What is the prevailing culture within the organization, and how does it manifest in day-to-day operations and decision-making?

  2. Who are the key stakeholders and decision-makers, and what are their expectations for new members of the organization?

  3. What informal networks or communication channels exist, and how can you effectively navigate them to build relationships?

  4. How can you demonstrate respect for existing norms and traditions while also introducing fresh perspectives and ideas?

  5. What initiatives or projects can you undertake that align with the organization's goals and also allow you to showcase your skills and contributions?

  6. How can you seek out mentors or advocates within the organization who can provide guidance and support as you integrate into the company?

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How to grow when there are no E6 role models?

Senior Software Engineer at Taro Community profile pic
Senior Software Engineer at Taro Community

I'm an E5 iOS engineer reporting to an M2 at a Big Tech company. I am the mobile lead for a complex mobile-heavy project spanning 2 other teams. This is a high visibility project that's on the VP Eng's & VP Product's radar. This project had 4 E6s:

  • E6 iOS engineer on partner team #1 delivered an onboarding guide with 70+ compilation errors and took a month to fix all the bugs blocking our integration. He did not test his code at all before delivering it to us.
  • E6 iOS engineer on partner team #2 delivered a component that did not tokenize SSNs properly, resulting in raw SSNs -- this would have caused an s0 incident, but my team fortunately caught it before it went to production. He also did not test his code at all before delivering it to us. My team's E6 BE engineer spent a month fixing it for that team, resulting in delays to our project's BE.
  • My team's E6 BE engineer had a falling out with my M2, so he switched teams, leaving us in a bind since our only other BE engineer (E5) on this project had resigned at the end of last year.
  • We got a replacement E6 BE engineer, but he is very slow, requires a lot of handholding, and most of his PRs have serious bugs -- I feel he's performing like an E4. A junior iOS engineer joined our team at the same time as he did but delivered more complex features in the same amount of time.

I switched to BE to de-risk the project after I took care of all the iOS fires. I've already fixed more BE bugs than the replacement E6 BE engineer.

Of the 4 E6s, I feel the one who switched teams was the strongest, but my M2 said that E6 did not exhibit ideal E6 behavior because we're over a month late due to BE delays and we keep discovering more and more BE bugs. The E6 also changed the design 3x when fixing the SSN issue. The M2 told me not to use that E6 as a role model, but the other E6s are even worse!

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