Book Review: Staff Engineer - Leadership Beyond the Management Track

Posted on Aug 19, 2022 - 0 min read.


An incredibly thorough and useful resource on what it takes to become a “Staff-plus” engineer. Becoming, and operating as, a staff engineer; writing team strategies; communicating effectively; getting “in the room”; negotiating salaries… It’s all covered here.

My thoughts

From the first page of this book I found myself nodding in agreement wondering, where has this book been my whole career? Almost every paragraph in every section was worthy of a highlight. The book doesn’t have a strong structure, allowing you to easily jump around sections that interest you or are relevant to you. It’s a much shorter book than it seems, with the second half of the book being entirely dedicated to stories/Q&As from “Staff-plus” engineers from some of the biggest companies.

This book is a gold mine. If you're a Senior engineer looking to make your way to a Staff role, this book will give you a ton of tools to do just that. If you're mid-level or early career engineer, read this book to learn what it takes to be a Senior engineer. You'll learn a lot!

Favorite highlights

  • Do fewer things, but do them better.
  • Learn to speak concisely: as you develop an economy of speech, you'll be able to contribute more ideas with less time.
  • Learn to speak clearly: if folks don't understand your proposal, then it doesn't matter how good it is. Keep in mind that it's your obligation to be understood, not the obligation of everyone else to understand you.
  • To get into the room, you have to work both the numerator and denominator: keep developing a unique and useful perspective while also becoming more effective at delivering that perspective within the constraints of a meeting.
  • Well-run organizations value you for what you're good at. Less well-run companies value you for your identity.
  • First, leaders have a sufficiently refined view of how things ought to work such that they can rely on their distinction between how things are and how they ought to be to identify proactive, congruent actions to narrow that gap. Second, they care enough about the gap to actually attempt those narrowing actions.

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