Staff Engineering (ft. Will Larson, CTO of Calm)

What happens after you go past Senior? Will Larson, CTO of Calm, has been interviewing Staff-plus engineers across the industry for his new book, Staff Engineering.
What happens after you go past Senior? Will Larson, CTO of Calm, has been interviewing Staff-plus engineers across the industry for his new book, Staff Engineering. 

This is our first full-length interview podcast episode! If you enjoyed it, please help us share with a friend and let us know your feedback! (Links at bottom)


1:00 Why research Staff Engineering?
  • Most bigcos make up their ladders as they go along, or cargo cult from FB/Google.
  • We have to separate management from leadership.
4:31 Who are Will's role models?
11:08 How do you find someone to help you grow?
  • 3 types: Role Models, Mentors, and Sponsors
  • Sponsors: Lara Hogan on Sponsorship
  • The key question: "Do I need to develop myself" or "Is the company evaluating my work fairly"?
  • Mentors: Some mentors give generic answers, others know your specific context. The second one is harder.
  • Role Models: Helps you know someone with your background can accomplish something. Lighthouse hires are important as proof.
  • Retention is most important here
  • Look externally on Twitter and on
  • The best people may not be writing online
16:30  Being Visible
  • Books are bought, not sold
  • If you aren't visible, your work won't be valued.
18:12 Career Management
  • Most people don't manage their careers at all
  • Most companies are set up to assume Fungible Developers which is exactly what you don't want to be
  • But also blaming your manager is a self limiting belief. You personally have to be managing your own career.
  • Write your own promotion packets on an ongoing basis.
  • Julia Evans on Brag Documents
  • Tip: Make your own achievements channel in Slack and log all that info for later
20:39 Architects - How do you lead without authority?
  • Silvia Botros at Twilio
  • Katie Sylor-Miller at Etsy
  • Spend a huge amount of time soaking up context
  • Reduce communication and coordination costs
  • We rarely understand the problems we are solving when we design the solution
  • One directional communication doesn't work - gathering context and providing a common interface helps solves this
  • Architects are powerful bc they are aligned with their engineers, Managers have to align with their orgs
  • Similar to a Product Manager role - all of the responsibility, none of the authority
24:37 Solvers and Matching Archetypes to Company Stage
  • Opposite of Architects? It depends on the company's approach - do they plan and then ship, or do they ship and learn. Architects cannot function in the second type.
  • 4 archetypes: Team Leads, Architects, Solvers, and Right Hands.
  • Calm is all Team Leads - the majority of the value is not in operating or creating infrastructure - it is in creating product
  • It's pointless to bias too much to Architect or Right Hand early on
  • You don't see Right Hands except at much bigger companies - for scaling out
29:10 What should Senior Engineers know about Systems Thinking?
32:33 Metrics: The subtle art of Measuring Engineer Productivity
36:30 Career Advice
  • Will Larson's Career Advice
  • Think about the teams you've worked with with the highest density of people you want to be working with
  • Yahoo story
  • Digg v4 story - your network will outlast your job
  • Your manager and team matters more than the company
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