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InfoQ Homepage News Becoming a Staff Plus Engineer: Leadership and Communication Training Matters

Becoming a Staff Plus Engineer: Leadership and Communication Training Matters

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The poor industry support for engineers who want to pursue a technical career affects them; many outstanding technical individuals find themselves forced to seek a management position. The path to a staff plus engineer role is not straightforward. Training on leadership and communication for staff plus engineers can help them to become a better tech leader.

Fabiane Bizinella Nardon presented her path to a staff plus engineer role at QCon London 2022 and will be presenting at QCon Plus May 10-20, 2022.

Nardon described how she went from a technical to a management role:

I started working with software development very early and always wanted to work on it. However, as I got more experienced, I was promoted to technical manager and then to CTO. This was expected since it was the natural progression in the company I was working at the time.

As it became clear to her that she wasn’t happy doing more management than technical work, she decided to explore going back to a more technical position:

I kept finding excuses to code and hated business meetings. Eventually, I left the company I was in and took a sabbatical year to experiment with new projects and decide which path I wanted to follow.

One of the projects she worked on during her sabbatical year was creating the company she’s working on today. This allowed her to go back to the technical path, and to built a company where people could stay on the technical path:

The strategy for the company was to build a team that would require very little management. We did that through a series of processes and strategic hires. We also tried to keep the team small.

When you become a manager, usually the companies are prepared to support you, Nardon said. They give you training, there are workshops, books; everything you need to succeed as a manager. Most of these lessons were on leadership. Nardon gave examples of what she learned that helped her to become a better technical leader:

I learned how to give feedback, how to make the team more engaged, how to explain things better.

Nardon argued that companies need to provide training on leadership and communication for staff plus engineers, like they usually provide for individuals on the management track.

We are experiencing the biggest skills shortage in the history of tech, and we have huge challenges ahead (see AI and data engineering, for example), Nardon said. We simply can’t afford to lose our most experienced engineers. Although more and more companies are providing a path for those who want to stay in the technical career, we still need more support and a clear understanding of how these careers should evolve, she concluded.

InfoQ interviewed Fabiane Bizinella Nardon about enabling and supporting technical careers.

InfoQ: Why aren’t companies encouraging people to stay on the technical path?

Fabiane Bizinella Nardon: I guess this is a cultural problem. Many companies have their management ladder very well-defined, but how to value and support individuals who want to stay in the technical career is still a challenge for many companies. Over time, I believe this will change. More mature companies, like the Big Techs, have a more clear path for those who want to stay on the technical path. As we are experiencing the biggest hiring crises in the history of tech, companies should start paying more attention to this.

InfoQ: What’s your advice to organizations who want to support staff-plus engineers?

Nardon: They need to incentivize people to stay on the technical path, providing the proper compensation and status.

They also need to identify what is important for staff-plus engineers and value that. For example, excellent developers usually value code quality. If the company does not make clear that code quality is important, the engineers will not feel their values are aligned.

And finally, if you have a company that supports staff-plus engineers, let the world know. The company will attract more talents and set a standard for the industry.

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