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Five Behaviours of Successful Staff Plus Engineers

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Staff plus engineers act as technical leaders to have a bigger impact. Their ability to get things done goes beyond their individual capacity to grow and mentor others. The tech industry has moved away from thinking that engineers work individually and collaboration is one of the most important behaviours in a staff plus role.

Blanca Garcia Gil spoke about behaviours to become an effective staff plus engineer at QCon London 2022 and will be presenting at QCon Plus May 10-20, 2022.

The staff plus engineer role is the career path on the technical leadership track, Gil explained:

While we have always understood you can be either an individual contributor or a manager, there is a third career path which is technical leadership. A technical leader uses their technical expertise with leadership skills to have a bigger impact. This is different from a true individual contributor, who is more a domain expert in a specific area.

In her talk, Gil presented five core areas which can benefit anyone in a staff plus role:

  1. Communication and listening
  2. Technical strategy
  3. Networking and influencing
  4. Technical leadership
  5. Managing your own career

While working in an engineering team we have probably been exposed to technical strategy or at least elements of it, but we might have not recognised it, Gil mentioned. Stepping into a staff plus role gets you closer to technical strategy so you will need to spend time understanding it, interpreting it, influencing it and explaining it to your teams. It goes a long way to provide a common understanding and getting everyone to focus on a priority area, she said.

Gil explained why technical leadership is also a very interesting skill for engineers. It is about thinking to ourselves "how can I maximise my impact?" The answer might not always be by writing a piece of code. Gil mentioned that we amplify our impact by collaborating with others, and this is what technical leadership is about; it is about using our technical experience to lead people towards a common goal:

When I was looking for ways to grow in my role, one of my mentors who is a technical leader challenged me with the following: "What got you here won’t get you to the next step". She was telling me at the time that I needed to focus on different skills while allowing me to think things for myself.

InfoQ interviewed Blanca Garcia Gil about the behaviour of staff-plus engineers.

InfoQ: Why did you include "managing your own career" in the list of behaviours?

Blanca Garcia Gil: Managing your career might not feel like an important one, but because you are in a role which has a lot of visibility and you mentor and coach engineers it is vital you understand and take time for your own career management. Many people see you as a role model and will follow the behaviours they see you doing, versus what you say.

InfoQ: How can engineers develop staff-plus behaviours?

Gil: What I have done with areas that I have identified I wanted to develop was speak to people around me- they can be peers, your manager, my long time mentor. I think it is good to get a feel of how they see you when you say something like "hey, I am thinking of focusing on my presentation skills because…." . They will help you articulate why this is important for you and also might give you a sense of whether it is something that they see you are quite strong at or need some work.

One last thing is that these behaviours are transferable. For example, for the networking one you might be a person who through a hobby runs a group of likeminded people and is always looking to connect with people who enjoy that and help each other. This hobby might have nothing to do with your professional career, but through it you are developing a skill that then you can transfer back to your work. That is very powerful and I think we don’t use this enough.

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