Lessons From a Staff Engineer at Dropbox

Lessons from Ritu Vincent, a Staff Engineer at Dropbox:

  • Staff Engineers often try out different ideas that don’t go into production, so don’t measure your impact by the number of things that get shipped out but by your potential influence to the company.
  • There are two types of Staff Engineers at Dropbox, specialists and tech-leads. Tech-leads are the most common.
  • Tech-leads often do design work, coordination and drive the project ahead.
  • When leading a complex project, don’t make the mistake of giving the easy parts to the team and taking the difficult ones. Try to delegate the complex tasks to stretch and grow the team.
  • You should spend a lot of time advocating for things and being visible.
  • Everyone is struggling with impostor syndrome, so don’t be afraid of asking to work on difficult projects. We often tend to only ask to work on projects that we are sure that we will succeed, and this is due to impostor syndrome. Working on difficult ambiguous projects is what will grow and stretch you.
  • It’s all about showing a balance of cultural & technical impact across the company.
  • Having a social circle composed of smart, experienced & impactful people is a great way to learn, e.g. going often with them to lunches … etc.
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Lessons From a Frontend Architect at Etsy

Lessons from Katie Sylor-Miller, a Frontend Architect at Etsy:

  • It seems that a Staff Engineer at Etsy is either someone who has a deep technical knowledge in a team’s area, or one that does work impacting several times. It seems that the later one is considered a more senior staff engineer at Etsy.
  • It’s recommended to keep track of your work (tickets done, meetings, experiments, improvements …etc) because when you are a staff then you are responsible for your time. Many staff engineers find it hard to quantify their work, so it’s important to keep track of your work to not feel bad that you are not achieving.
  • If you are not part of a JIRA sprint, then create your own sprint, i.e to-do-list to track your work.
  • When you are a Staff Engineer you don’t get the chance to code a lot, but at the same time you have to know what’s being shipped and the current projects happening. To solve this you need to network a lot and meet with people. One way to do this is to participate in social events where colleagues from different teams join so you get to know as much as possible.
  • It’s important to network with managers, because your job is often to “influence without authority”. You often need to sell ideas and managers are often the final decision-makers.
  • Often the path to reach staff is to look for problems and proactively solve them, instead of just ignoring things and letting them go.
  • It’s important to make your work visible at all times, but it’s extra important when you are remote since a lot of your work/progress goes hidden under Slack threads and pull-requests.
  • Helping folks means: being available, being humble, hearing them and understanding their needs.
  • It’s not about building a stronger technical skillset, it’s about building a strong reputation.
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