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Remain in Tech by Becoming a Staff Plus Engineer

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Engineers who want to remain focused on the tech can follow the path toward becoming a staff plus engineer. Staff plus engineers enable others to have impact. Bringing the people along can be hard; you need to work on your communication and influential skills. Nicky Wrightson presented The Secret Strategy for Landing That Staff Engineer Role at QCon London 2022.

Several misconceptions exist about the staff plus engineers role, Wrightson mentioned. Staff plus engineers work across teams; they work organization-wide. It’s not a senior role in a team for people with more experience, Wrightson said. Also, it’s not a rebranding of the architect role. As a staff plus engineer you are enabling others; acting as an architect is only one element of the staff plus role. Staff plus is as much about people as it is about tech, Wrightson concluded.

Wrightson mentioned that staff plus engineers enable others; they are highly technical, but instead of doing it themselves, they pay it forward. To be able to do that, they have to focus on cross-cutting concerns and have their eyes across teams.

How can you get promoted and become a staff plus engineer? Having a sponsor can increase your visibility; a sponsor can get you in the room where the interesting challenges present themselves, Wrightson said. Sponsors are your human amplifiers.

When you are enabling engineers, you should also broadcast your presence and what you have done. Wrightson suggested asking people if they see or feel your influence. Keep a log of evidence and how it relates back to company values and career frameworks. If there isn’t a framework, ask your manager what they expect from you to get promoted. Find yourself people who are doing the role to vouch for you during the promotion process to add credibility to your evidence.

Wrightson suggested that, instead of pointing out what goes wrong, bring improvements to the teams. Find out where you can have impact, define your goals, and set clear expectations.

Measuring your success in a staff plus role can be difficult, due to the delayed feedback. Also, people might not realize that you were part of the process and not give you credit. If you have an idea, go out, talk about it, and inspire people, Wrightson suggested. Don’t become invisible.

You have to keep your tech skills up-to-date; keep learning. Code reviews, monitoring improvements or small spikes can help to keep your hands in the code, Wrightson said.

As a staff engineer, make sure your impact is wide or deep, and visible, Wrightson said. Set clear expectations of what you will achieve in the role and constantly evaluate yourself against that, she suggested. The tech is easy but bringing people along is hard, so hone those influencing skills, she concluded.

Nicky Wrightson will be presenting at QCon Plus May 10-20, 2022.

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