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Becoming an Effective Staff-Plus Engineer

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To increase your effectiveness as a staff-plus engineer, it can help to develop your communication, listening, technical strategy, and networking skills. Blanca Garcia Gil presented Five Behaviours to Become an Effective Staff-Plus Engineer at QCon London 2022.

A few years ago technical leaders such as Pat Kua, Will Larson and Tanya Reilly realised there was not a clear description of what a staff plus engineer does nor their career path. So they set out to document it in blogs on StaffEng, interviewing engineers and publishing books on the topic such as "The Staff Engineer’s Path" by Tanya Reilly and "Staff Engineer: leadership beyond the management track" by Will Larson.

As a staff plus engineer, you will be working longer time frames, and you have to be ok with that. The benefit will be that you can have more impact on the organization, Gil mentioned.

Staff plus roles have different flavors, like tech lead, architect, solver, or right hand.

The solver role can be temporary for handling a crisis, but it can be longer if needed. Roles will of course vary across organizations, Gil said, and there are big differences in career paths.

Communication and listening is a foundation skill, Gil mentioned. It’s also an underrated skill that often isn’t stated in career development plans, but it’s critical to succeed as a staff plus engineer.

Technical strategy is something that you will need to get to grips with so you can not only influence it, but also explain it to your teams. This will enable to influence the longer term planning across many teams, and align everyone on a common goal.

Networking is important because people will come to you with questions you can’t have all the answers to. Gil suggested spending time building your network. Ways to do this are talking to people in different disciplines, and practising explaining technical stuff to those who aren’t technical.

As a technical leader, you need to be able to create psychological safety for people to work together. Gil mentioned that we need more people who are different. Spend time mentoring and sponsoring others; investing in those around you will have far greater impact than what you could ever achieve independently. This is how you create lasting change in organisations. In a staff plus role you have to be able to enable everyone to contribute. "Be a force multiplier for your team," Gil said.

Last but not least, don’t forget to manage your career, as Gil pointed out. Start by setting goals, and reflect and review them regularly so you don’t lose direction. Remember to take care of yourself so you don’t burn out; this will also impact those around you in a positive way. Find your own sponsors to accelerate your career.

Gil’s main takeaways were:

  1. Understand the role expectations and the level in the organisation you are working around
  2. Apply staff plus role behaviors like communication, listening, technical strategy, and networking intentionally
  3. Remember the staff plus role is in the technical leadership path

Blanca Garcia Gil will be presenting at QCon Plus May 10-20, 2022.

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