April updates for StaffEng.

April 23, 2020. Filed under staff-eng 5

On March 19th, I posted How do folks reach Staff Engineer?, and began posting stories of folks reaching and operating at the Staff Engineer level every Tuesday and Thursday.

The first was from Keavy McMinn, and yesterday the tenth went up from Silvia Botros. Every story has gotten a good number of reads, with Keavy's doing quite well, along with those from Duretti Hirpa and Michelle Bu. The mailing list for StaffEng.com has gone from zero to a bit over 1,300. Yuan Liu also wrote his story on his own blog as his contribution to the genre, which is a good read.

The project's not done, but the first phase is winding down. I'll likely skip next week because I've fallen behind on editing, after which there are another three stories in active editing, and I'll continue to edit and share folks stories if they submit them. (So far though, two submissions have come that way, the majority have been from direct outreach.)


At this point, the collection is well on its way to existing, and my next step for the project is to start synthesizing the stories into a set of practices and recommendations to guide a career towards and succeed within the Staff Engineer role. The sorts of thing I've been tagging staff-plus, like: Getting in the room, Staying aligned with authority, and Staff engineer archetypes.

As I work on the guide, I'll share sections here as well as creating a section of StaffEng to contain them and sharing them out on the StaffEng mailing list. I also wanted to take this moment to jot down some rough thoughts on the project so far.

My sense is that folks' stories are really resonating, and I'm excited for that. It's such a great group of people to learn from, and even if only a few people approach their careers differently as a result, that'll be a big success for me. It doesn't take a lot of volume to change someone's life, just a few of the right things at the right time, and I hope these stories will change lives in quiet but meaningful ways.


Each interview went up on Twitter and LinkedIn, and they got good traction on both. Twitter generated about 3x the reads as LinkedIn, but both were a great return-on-investment given I only spent probably ten minutes upfront for each story on social distribution.

Certainly, interviewing people who already have something of their own distribution network is a help, and the project has, quite intentionally, benefitted from that. This is something I learned from working on my book, and also from watching Holloway's approach to creating their guides. That said: people don't really do the distribution for you. They'll help, but in the end distribution is always going to be mostly on you.

Before starting, I debated if I should just run the project off my blog or have a standalone website for it. I think the decision to split it out has worked well, allowing it to develop its own voice and focus that would have been more difficult on Irrational Exuberance. Conversely, from a distribution perspective, I suspect it's not yet better off for being on its own site. I am curious to see if I'll be able to build any keyword density or SEO on staffeng, which my blog has never really been very successful at.

None of the stories have been submitted to any of the social news sites, and I don't plan on submitting them. The dynamics on those sites are complex enough that I decided a long time ago to focus elsewhere for the most part.

Altogether, though, it's worth sharing that the total number of reads is quite small at this point, and I think the distribution work here is just beginning rather than being finished.


Each of these interviews took four to six hours to create, so even at "only twelve" or "only thirteen", this project has taken a considerable amount of care to put together. I think the quality, utility and interest of the work is higher and more consistent than my typical writing, which is good!

Initially I aimed to get to twenty stories, and I would like to hit twenty, but I don't find this sort of writing as therapeutic as my typical sort, where I'm able to purge lingering thoughts onto the page and out of my head, and really want to get back to it.

Assuming it wraps with the current thirteen, a good question is, "Are these the right thirteen people?" Obviously, I want to say yes. One of my goals was to establish a portfolio of role models that folks could look up to and see themselves in, and I think this group is fairly representative of the future of engineering that we as an industry know we need to build towards. And, it's a representation of that industry which exists within today's industry, although undoubtedly the path to it is far more treacherous for some than others.

Which brings me to my last thought/question, is the path and the role described in these interviews real? Unequivocably, yes, this role is real, but it's similar to William Gibson's future: "The future is already here – it's just not evenly distributed." These interviews won't do much to change that distribution, but hopefully they'll help folks understand and navigate it while we continue to do the broader work as an industry.