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Staff Engineer Career Development Videos, Forum, and Q&A

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.

How to make it count for putting out fire before it started?

Senior Software Engineer [E5] at Meta profile pic
Senior Software Engineer [E5] at Meta


Our team inherited a set of products which are full of spaghetti code and bad design. We are currently building a high visibility and high impact project based on the backend of this system.

Although the main project UI goes on-track, some critical backend design flaws will hinder product performance and reliability within a couple of months - maybe close to or right after official product launch, which will turn our whole effort into a joke since we have executives' eyes on it.

My progress this year so far: (besides my roadmap item commitment)

  • 1. Identified a system hotspot, finished analysis & design, and convinced our EM to rewrite this module (currently 95% finished by a junior engineer.)
  • 2. Rewrote 1 foundation module to eliminate legacy design flaw (ended up with less code, less complexity, same performance, more system reliability.)
  • 3. Design and rewrite another foundation backend module to address legacy design flaw & unblock development of the next milestone
  • 4. Leading on technical design and discussion of a re-architecture for the overall backend end to end flow. (simplify design, improve performance)

- I tried to delegate 2 & 3, but no other engineers can do them after a few try since it's too tightly coupled with the rest of the system.
- our team lead is championing for all these work, which is how we are able to make room for them

Benefit of these work:

  • accelerate other engineers' work in the system
  • cut clean with the legacy system design flaw, improve product reliability and performance
  • ensure our team's win on the high visibility project that built on top of this backend
  • easier oncall for the short run or long run

My questions:

  • In terms of performance review, my manager thinks this is better engineering work, while I think is closely tied to the success of our main project. What kind of evidence do I need to convince him? (My EM is not very technical)
  • From his tone, I sense he thinks better engineering work in considered "lower priority contribution". Is this true? How do I communicate the importance of code/design quality with him?
  • I'm trying to reach the staff level promo, does this initiative demonstrate any trait for the next level? (I'm not doing it for promo, but my EM's neglect on this makes me pretty frustrated because refactoring and rewrite is such tedious and painful work... I want to make it count)

Thank you!

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Laid Off Last Week - 3 paths at once?

Staff Software Engineer at Taro Community profile pic
Staff Software Engineer at Taro Community

After 10 years as a full stack SWE and eng manager, I pivoted into AI while working at Shopify, and was recently laid off as Head of AI at a collapsing pharma startup. Title is nice, but I only really have two years experience in ML. While it is high quality experience (training and shipping models and LLM apps at web scale)-- I'm feeling a bit scared. I don't have a ton of savings and two kids so I need something soon.

I'm deeply passionate about language models, for the first time in my career working with a particular technology has felt like a real calling-- staying up nights and weekends just to learn and build. My first research paper ever was published at NeurIPS last year.

However, I'm feeling fairly unconvincing as an ML engineer after the layoff. Probably the perfect role would be something in between web and ML. So now we're at the question:

Given that I'm pretty desperate to land anything (3 mos runway before pulling out of investments, wife really against this) I'm wondering how to approach my search:

  1. Go all out for AI Engineer Roles (passion forward)
  2. Go for senior / staff web dev roles (safer, maybe, given 10+ yrs exp)
  3. Go for 1 or 2 plus eng manager roles
  4. Go for all of it at once

Some confounders:

I have referrals at Google and Microsoft, but don't want to burn them on ML roles if I'm obviously unqualified having only 2 years ML. I know I can absolutely add value wherever I land, but these feel like precious gold to me, and I don't want to get tossed out of the running for playing it silly. I can likely get some at Meta as well, but again, I don't want to play myself going for stuff that's just inappropriate. This has never been an issue in the past, I've been able to land stretch roles or at least get the interview but stakes are different now and my confidence is lower.

I am a good eng manager, and would do it again, but I have a feeling it's an altogether different search. Is there a way to increase the surface area of possible roles by applying to manager jobs too-- without splitting my energy?

Anyway, its helpful just to think out loud, would appreciate any advice here. Current plan is to create 3 resumes, start blasting applications and networking to get the interview funnel spun up before the leetcode grind.


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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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