Staying aligned with authority.

April 2, 2020. Filed under management 128staff-plus 26

It’s a common misconception that authority makes you powerful. Many folks aspiring towards more senior roles assume they’ll finally get to do things their way. They believe that the title inherently creates flexibility and autonomy. They believe that the friction holding them back will burst into a whirl of butterflies that scatter into the wind. The reality is a bit more nuanced.

Getting in the room.

March 28, 2020. Filed under management 128staff-plus 26

One of the most common frustrations I’ve heard from engineers is that they’re not in the room where important decisions are being made. They don’t understand the company decisions, and have important context that seems to be missing or ignored. Staff-plus engineers frequently cite access to “the room” as a major benefit of their level, and titles do increase the likelihood that you’ll be involved in decisions that impact you.

Learn to never be wrong.

March 21, 2020. Filed under staff-plus 26

Most folks have worked with someone who thinks they’re never wrong. In each discussion, they lean in, broaden their shoulders and breach their way into the role of the decider. They’ll continue debating until their perspective wins the day or time runs out. They are often right, but right in a way that sucks the oxygen out of the room. As their tenure at a company increases, they may fancy that they’ve become very persuasive, but frequently it’s a form of persuasion characterized by the resignation of their peers.

How do folks reach Staff Engineer?

March 19, 2020. Filed under staff-eng 10

At most technology companies, you'll reach Senior Software Engineer, the so-called career level, in five to eight years. At that point your path branches, and you have the opportunity to pursue engineering management or continue down the path of technical excellence to become a Staff Engineer.

Hotspotting developer productivity.

March 17, 2020. Filed under architecture 30productivity 3

Late last year I had coffee with Keith Adams, and we ended up chatting a bunch about migrations in the context of making it easier to extend an unruly codebase. The discussion went in a bunch of directions, including chatting a bit about Building Evolutionary Architecture. One idea that Keith mentioned in that discussion has particularly stuck with me: most changes happen in the same handful of files, and those files are the most effective place to invest into quality improvement.

vtt-compactor: slightly less verbose VTT files.

March 7, 2020.

I'm working on a small project that involves interviewing a number of folks to capture their experience becoming and working as a Staff engineer. Hopefully the first stories will be ready to post in a couple of weeks, but what I've been surprised by is just how tricky it can be to get good interview notes.

Resources for Staff-plus engineers.

March 7, 2020. Filed under staff-plus 26

When I was working on "Your first 90 days as CTO or VP Engineering", one of the most valuable things I did was build a list of resources for folks (especially me) to continue their learning and exploration. Recently, I’ve been focused on the question of “What does it mean to be a Staff or Staff-plus engineer, and how do you get there?”, and have gathered this collection of resources for folks who are looking to grow as or into such roles.

From one to two: how to start a successful distributed engineering office.

March 3, 2020. Filed under management 128

Recently it feels like companies are moving beyond the single office model earlier and earlier in the lifetime. Maybe it’s improvements in video conferencing, perhaps it’s the increasing costs of operating in Silicon Valley, perhaps it’s just a fad, but in any case, effectively supporting additional company offices is an important and increasingly core skill for engineering leaders.

Interviewing senior engineering leaders.

February 18, 2020. Filed under management 128hiring 9

A friend recently reached out for advice on interviewing and hiring senior engineering leaders. I’ve spent a good deal of time on this topic over the last couple years, starting with partnering with Laura Hilton to design Stripe’s interview loops for engineering leadership, and more recently going through a search for my own role. Leadership hiring is particularly interesting as a window into an organization’s psychology: for the highest stake decisions, do they turn to structure or to intuition?

Mailbag: Evolving your engineer career beyond the career level.

February 13, 2020. Filed under career 21staff-eng 10mailbag 5

Recently I got an email asking about evolving your engineering career after you’ve hit the career level, but before you feel like you’ve accomplished what’s important to you. I wrote up my response here in case others are interested.