Show cover of StaffEng


Conversations with software engineers who have progressed beyond the career level, into Staff levels and beyond. We discuss the areas of work that set Staff-plus level engineers apart from other individual contributors; things like setting technical direction, mentorship and sponsorship, providing engineering perspective to the org, etc.Hosted by David Noël-Romas (@davidnoelromas) and Alex Kessinger (@voidfiles).


Alex Kessinger (Stitch Fix) and David Noël-Romas (Stripe)
This episode is a celebration of the journey we have been on as this podcast comes to a close. We have had such a great time bringing you these interviews and we are excited about a new chapter, taking the lessons we have learned forward into different spaces. It's been a lot of work putting this show together, but it has also been such a pleasure doing it. And, as we all know, nothing good lasts forever! So to close the circle in a sense, we decided to host a conversation between the two of us where we interview each other as we have with our guests in the past, talking about mentorship, resources, coding as a leader, and much more! We also get into some of our thoughts on continuous delivery, prioritizing work, our backgrounds in engineering, and how to handle disagreements.  As we enter new phases in our lives, we want to thank everyone for tuning in and supporting us and we hope to reconnect with you all in the future!LinksDavid Noël-Romas on TwitterAlex Kessinger on TwitterStitch FixStripeJavaScript: The Good PartsDouglas CrockfordMonkeybrainsKill It With FireTrillion Dollar CoachMartha AcostaEtsy Debriefing Facilitation GuideHigh Output Management How to Win Friends & Influence PeopleInfluence
67:58 12/28/21
Peter Stout (Netflix)
The structures of an organization can often be self-reinforcing, and in a changing environment, this becomes a recipe for future vulnerabilities. That is why senior ICs need to play a slightly discordant role at times by alerting teams to issues conventionally outside of their bubble of concern. Peter Stout is a Technical Director at Netflix where he has a cross-functional role at the juncture of business and technology. He joins us on the show today to share some of the finer details around what inhabiting this position in the above manner looks like. We start by hearing Peter describe himself as a generalist, and share how this played out in the broad focus of his college degree as well as in his career pivot from Chemistry into Software Engineering. We discuss the rapid growth of the engineering team at Netflix, how this has led to less tightly-defined roles for junior and senior engineers, and how this factors into the way Peter approaches his place in the organization. Peter talks about the shift he made from technician to technical director and how much of the skills he learned from the former position he brings into the latter. He talks about his tendency to seek out the blank spots in the organization and how he tries to focus on a long-term vision, using that to guide him as he connects the dots between teams and influences decision making. Here Peter considers his role as a disruptor and how he gauges how much pressure to apply while still staying largely in sync. We also have a great conversation about Peter’s approach to mentorship and his philosophy around how he grew into the leadership position he occupies. Tune in today!LinksPeter Stout on LinkedInNetflixRangeThe Leadership Pipeline
52:11 12/14/21
James Cowling (Convex)
Often the biggest impacts a Staff Engineer can make in their organization are not technical but rather people-related. When teams are value-aligned due to good leadership, they go on to make larger impacts than they would otherwise have. As Senior Principal Engineer at Dropbox for almost a decade, James Cowling learned a lot about how people think and work together, and he joins us today to share some of his insights. Joining this conversation, listeners will hear about James’ experience at the helm of numerous high stakes projects at Dropbox, such as migrating the company off Amazon S3 by building their own distributed storage system. For James, the main job of a tech lead is getting their team to have a firm grasp of the why behind a project, and to become completely values-aligned as a result. James takes us through his approach to diagnosing struggles within teams and how he helps groups to step back and course correct by drilling down on their purpose within the larger organization. We talk about the strong culture that gets built as a result of this approach and the power it has to keep teams robust. In today’s conversation, James also gets into how Staff Engineers themselves can stay in tune with the larger company, the single most important quality to nurture in Software Engineers who hope to grow into leadership positions, and a whole lot more.LinksJames Cowling on LinkedInJames Cowling on TwitterConvexDropbox'Stepping Stones not Milestones'
48:28 11/30/21
Bryan Berg (Stripe)
Staff engineers may not get much time to code anymore, but this does not mean problem-solving and system design is not an integral part of their day-to-day. Today’s guest is Bryan Berg, Staff Engineer at Stripe, and he joins us to talk about the nuances of his position and his unique approach to the many challenges it entails. As a Staff Engineer, Bryan acts as Tech Lead of the Traffic team, and we begin our conversation by hearing about how he landed in this role. Bryan describes the ambiguous challenges he faced during earlier days at Stripe, and the knack he had for finding and working on processes and systems that were previously underinvested in. We then jump forward to the present and dig into what Bryan’s current role entails, hearing him describe a wide range of tasks from reviewing documentation, communicating between teams, writing vision documents, and ensuring the work he directs falls into the company and stakeholder requirements. We also explore the interesting concept of when to draw on past experience versus keeping an open mind when facing new challenges. On top of all this, our conversation covers how Bryan judges the success of his work, sustains faith in his ideas, pitches to colleagues, debugs difficult pieces of code, and finds inspiration to be a great technical leader.
50:46 11/16/21
Ben Ilegbodu (Stitch Fix)
Today we talk to Ben Ilegbodu, Principal Frontend Engineer at Stitch Fix, about how he manages to stay close to the code at a senior level. We hear how he arrived at Stitch Fix and what his first tasks were to identify the pain points in customer teams. From getting the IC's on his side to learning the importance of marketing your ideas to upper management, Ben talks us through his exciting career. He describes how he handles urgent tasks, and why it's crucial to do the important tasks first. We hear how giving an honest answer to where in the priorities list a task falls is key to inter-team efficiency, and why it's so important to keep communicating throughout long-term projects. Tune in to find out Ben's approach to mentorship, and how he plans on motivating high-school students to take the steps to become a developer. Don't miss out on this must-hear episode filled with practical advice on being a Staff+ engineer. LinksBen Ilegbodu on LinkedInStaffPlus Live Conference
35:52 11/2/21
Ashby Winch
Moving from an architect role to a product-oriented one might seem like a big leap, but there are overlaps between the two roles. Today's guest, Ashby Winch, has recently made this transition, and in today's episode, they share what this has been like. Up until recently, Ashby was an architect, with their most senior role at a large logistics operation in the U.K. Now, they have shifted to a product management job, and they are using the skills from the previous role for this new position. We hear about Ashby's diverse experience, how they came to work as an architect, and what inspired a career pivot. Ashby talks about the challenges they have had with having a loosely defined role and how they have made the best of this situation. Our conversation also touches on the relationship between architects and product managers, the importance of communicating context to developers, and advice Ashby wishes they knew earlier in their career. Tune in to hear it all!LinksLinkedInMedium
40:15 10/19/21
Josh Kaderlan (Lob)
Today’s guest is Josh Kaderlan, Staff Software Engineer at Lob, a direct mail and address verification API company that automates and simplifies direct mail and address verification, giving businesses greater flexibility, visibility, and accuracy of offline communications and data. There are so many different and non-traditional paths to becoming a staff engineer and, in today’s episode, you’ll hear a bit about Josh’s; starting in quality assurance, moving into development, and ultimately ending up where he is today, which he attributes to his wide breadth of knowledge and the valuable lessons he learned along the way. We discuss why Josh considers himself a generalist, the role that incident management plays in his work, and how he influences his peers by cultivating authentic relationships. Most important to Josh is how the work he does improves the experience of his colleagues and provides value to customers, and he shares some of his tips for staff engineers and organizations looking to have a similar impact. Tune in today to learn more and receive some practical advice and resources!LinksJosh Kaderlan on LinkedInLob‘Staff Archetypes’Hacker NewsRands Leadership Slack
33:44 10/5/21
Ben Edmunds (Wayfair)
During today’s conversation, we speak with Ben Edmunds, Senior Staff Engineer at Wayfair. You’ll hear all about his role at Wayfair, from his day-to-day active projects and how he goes about setting OKRs to the legacy and new deploy tooling he uses, and the method he has adopted to guide engineers. Ben shares ample advice for young engineers and stresses the value of learning more than one coding language. He reveals the finer details of life at Wayfair and the tools he uses to make sure that goals are reached, which include surveys, direct conversation, and partnership. We talk about the role of auxiliary engineering, the templates engineers build for application in partnership with an engineering team, and Ben points listeners in the direction of topics they should research, depending on whether they are looking to improve their software engineering or technical leadership skills. We hope you join us for an action-packed episode today!
43:46 9/21/21
Nell Shamrell-Harrington (Microsoft)
Today’s guest is a principal software engineer at Microsoft who works at the interface between external and internal elements of the organization. Nell Shamrell-Harrington works on the ClearlyDefined open source project, which tracks open source licenses across open source ecosystems, and is also part of the Rust Foundation's Board of Directors. In today’s episode, you’ll hear about the “field commander” role that Nell plays in both of these organizations, and some of the major learnings they have had along the way (with particular emphasis on the importance of ensuring that technical interventions are responding to the needs of the business and the community). Nell also shares their experience of mentoring veterans through Operation Code, their approach to mentoring in general, and how this impacts their day-to-day job. LinksNell Shamrell-Harrington on LinkedInClearlyDefinedRust FoundationOperation CodeTanya Reilly on TwitterSylvia Botros on Twitter
42:33 9/7/21
Rich Lafferty (PagerDuty)
Oscillating between the roles of individual contributor and management has been a recurring theme on this show. Our guest today, Rich Lafferty, has some special insights into this pattern that can help anyone looking to improve their work. Rich works as a Staff Site Reliability Engineer at PagerDuty and has spent many years interfacing with various departments and building projects and proposals. In our conversation with Rich, we discuss how his past roles have informed his work at PagerDuty and how he gets the most out of his teams without exploiting the authority that comes with his more senior role. We delve into Rich’s process for building proposals and learn some of his tips and tricks for ensuring the best possible outcome by investing in the foundation and design phase. We also explore the importance of early feedback, why you need to include a diverse group of individuals, and how to gradually grow your feedback group. Tune in as we discuss everything from risk management to high and low context culture, and much more!LinksRich LaffertyBeing GlueBehind Human ErrorThe Manager's Path: A Guide for Tech Leaders Navigating Growth and ChangeJohn Allspaw
49:53 8/24/21
Mason Jones (Credit Karma)
Credit Karma is a company that helps people understand their credit. Today’s guest, Mason Jones, was brought onto the Credit Karma team to move the company from a monolith to microservices. The company has grown almost four-fold since he joined, and Mason is now a senior staff engineer whose role swings from engineering to project management to technical writing, depending on the project he is working on. Prior to working at Credit Karma, Mason was involved in a number of small start-ups, and he explains how these experiences have translated into very useful skills in his current job. He also explains how he shares these skills with other engineers in the company, and some of the challenges that have arisen during mentoring sessions. Security, velocity and reliability are core values at Credit Karma and Mason shares how he, as a leader, upholds them, and how he continually expands his knowledge in order to have the maximum positive impact on the company. LinksMason Jones on LinkedInCredit Karma
45:49 8/10/21
Lorin Hochstein (Netflix)
Today’s conversation is about resilience, and as today’s guest, Lorin Hochstein, notes; “Resilience is about the stuff that isn’t visible through the metrics.” Lorin is a senior software engineer at Netflix who is on a mission to improve the company’s engineering department through creating a culture within which peer-to-peer learning and the process of reflecting on past mistakes are foundational. Lorin is responsible for the development of a few grassroots programs at Netflix which address the company’s lack of deliberate knowledge sharing, which he talks about today. We also discuss the value of close calls as opposed to incidents, and how Lorin works around the challenge of measuring the negative outcomes which didn’t occur. Although he makes sure to point out that he does not bear a "staff" title (Netflix does not have them), he is certainly doing some interesting staff-type work, and his passion for value creation is inspiring. LinksLorin Hochstein
48:16 7/27/21
Stacey Gammon (Elastic)
What works for a small company may not work for a large company, so what do you do when your organization experiences rapid growth, and the old way of doing things is no longer sustainable? In today’s episode, we speak with Stacey Gammon, a tech lead and Principal Software Engineer at Elastic. She has been with the company for almost five years and in that time has been able to observe firsthand the challenges that come with rapid growth in areas like scalability, communications, and project management. Tuning in you’ll hear Stacey break down the details of her role and how she manages teams and people. She elaborates on how Elastic is currently approaching the problem of scalability and how it is still a work in progress. We hear from Stacey about the many projects they have going on at one time and why the biggest challenge is often saying no to new projects. Later, we discuss retrospectives and why they can be a safe and effective way for teams to learn from past errors. Stacey shares the details of the formal mentorship program at Elastics and unpacks why the long-term benefits of delegating outweigh the extra time commitment it requires in the short term. Stacey shares her feelings on spending a large portion of her time in meetings and why she believes one-on-one meetings are valuable. We loved having Stacey on the show, and we’re sure you will find the conversation every bit as insightful and thought-provoking as we did! For all this and more, tune in today!LinksStacey Gammon on LinkedInKibanaElasticTanya Riley
46:18 7/13/21
Will Larson (Calm)
Please note that this episode contains brief mention of suicide.Today's guest needs no introduction! Of course, they will get one anyway:Will Larson is the CTO of Calm and has worked at Stripe, Uber, and Digg. He is also an author and has written two books, one of which is on Staff Engineering and serves as the inspiration for this podcast! In our conversation with Will, we discuss one of his earliest blog posts on a catastrophic launch at Digg and why he felt it was important to write about his experiences. We talk with Will about the expanding role of Staff Engineers and how that is affected by the rate of change in the field of startups and technology companies as a whole. Later, we explore the tracks of technical leadership and management within technology companies and the pros and cons of the pendulum model. Will shares what he’s learned about the skills needed for leadership positions and why working with a team of managers versus a team of engineers requires a completely different skillset. After that, we talk about Will’s career in writing and public speaking. We loved having Will on the show, so join us for engaging conversation spanning many topics from the potential for leadership in technology companies to the joy of writing!LinksWill Larson on LinkedInWill Larson on GithubWill Larson on AmazonIrrational ExuberanceCalmStaff Engineer: Leadership beyond the management trackAn Elegant Puzzle: Systems of Engineering ManagementDigg's v4 launch: an optimism born of necessityHigh Output ManagementThe Engineer/Manager Pendulum
48:45 6/29/21
Mahdi Yusuf (1Password)
Today’s guest is Mahdi Yusuf, Tech Lead for the Server Architecture Team at 1Password. Our conversation is about what it means as well as what it takes to navigate the needs of the org, client, and staff in order to find the best path forward. We kick things off by hearing more about what Mahdi’s job at 1Password involves and he talks about the chief concerns and responsibilities of working on the platform code that the rest of the app is built on. Mahdi’s role specifically requires him to do a lot more than write code though, including designing projects, communicating between nodes in the org, and mentoring staff. This is a balancing act indeed and our conversation moves to focus on what it looks like to handle these tasks with equal measure. One of the biggest skills the position of Tech Lead requires for Mahdi is empathy, and he talks about how a big part of what he does involves listening to concerns and working out when it is best to make a pivot and focus on something different for the overall good. In an environment with so many different stakeholders, knowing what this is can be a huge challenge! We wrap up our conversation with Mahdi on the subject of excelling in your career, talking about what it takes to do truly good work, thinking bigger than the specific problem one is working on, and the necessity of having difficult conversations. So to hear Mahdi’s insights on creating rock-solid products while maintaining a healthy and effective team, tune in today!LinksMahdi YusufMahdi Yusuf on LinkedInMahdi Yusuf on Twitter1PasswordArchitecture Notes
49:54 6/15/21
Amy Unger (GitHub)
Amy Unger, our guest on today’s show, is passionate about providing a high-quality service to the customers who use the products she is working on. Amy has a diverse skill set and an equally diverse set of tasks that she undertakes weekly for GitHub, and at the core of everything she does is her drive to provide value. Amy came into the for-profit space from the academic programming space, and she explains the different experiences she has had in these realms. We discuss what a tech lead role consists of, in comparison to the deep diver role that Amy currently holds, the responsibilities that come with it, and why she loves what she does.  Amy also shares her thoughts about trade-offs, and the considerations that all engineers should be making before they embark upon certain projects.LinksAmy Unger on LinkedInGitHubHerokuCode4LibDigital Commons - bepress
36:03 6/1/21
Brian Lawler (Iterable)
Today we welcome Brian Lawler, who is a Principal Engineer at Iterable! Brian has a load of experience with software architecture, having worked in the space for over 25 years, at a number of different companies and amassing a large amount of wisdom and expertise in the process. The rise of Iterable stands as a testament to the great ethos and community at the company and Brian generously shares a lot of insider info on how the teams and processes work. We get to talk about his specific role as it stands, his first period of employment at Iterable, and his thoughts on leadership style and problem-solving. Brian underlines the way they approach meetings and the feedback that follows before we hear how he divides his time as Principal Engineer. The conversation also covers how to keep a multidisciplinary organization in alignment, processes for flagging bugs, and the inextricable importance of mentorship in a company such as this. So for all this great stuff and much more from a seasoned pro, be sure to join us!LinksBrian Lawler on LinkedInIterableAccenture
45:49 5/18/21
Matthew Bilotti (Twitter)
On today’s episode of StaffEng, we speak with the formidable Matthew Bilotti who works as a Senior Staff Software Engineer at Twitter and has been at the company for 11 years. Matthew currently leads a team that plays a critical role in user safety. Matthew has also taken on a key role when it comes to mentoring junior members at Twitter. In our conversation, Matthew talks about why he’s spent so many years at Twitter, his deep passion for teaching, and why the work his team does is invisible until something goes wrong. Matthew also elaborates on what goes into hiring a new senior staff member and why, at Twitter, they make it possible to easily switch teams to help retain the employees after the company has spent so much time investing in them. For all this and much more, join us for a riveting discussion on leadership, mentorship, and how to balance idealism with realism in a mission-based company!LinksMatthew Bilotti on Twitter
49:02 5/4/21
Natalia Tepluhina (GitLab)
As today’s guest, Natalia Tepluhina walks us through her professional history and describes her experiences at GitLab. After getting to know Natalia a little better, we talk about the challenges she has faced as a staff engineer. We then get into what makes GitLab a documentation-first company. Natalia goes on to explain the inherent traits of being a documentation-first company, like practicing open-sourced work and documenting every step of your knowledge journey. As our conversation with Natalia evolves, she describes her day-to-day responsibilities as a staff engineer and touches on the processes she implemented for her team to achieve success. From here, we take a deep dive into GitLab’s organizational structure and discover the differences between managers and technical leaders, finding out why Natalia prefers the former. Later in the show, we talk to Natalia about what goes into being a technical leader and hear more about her experiences collaborating with other divisions internally and as a GitLab consultant. To draw the episode to a close, we ask Natalia what it takes to surpass the staff level and for her to share her most influential resources. Find out what these are and much, much more by joining us today!LinksNatalia TepluhinaNatalia Tepluhina on TwitterGitLab
54:36 4/20/21
Jam Leomi (Honeycomb)
Today we are joined by the inspiring Jam Leomi, who is currently the Lead Security Engineer at Honeycomb. Jam has worked in tech for over ten years, holding positions in both operations and security, and we get to hear about some important milestones in their journey thus far. Jam gives us some great insight into how things work for engineers at Honeycomb, talking about expectations and priorities, and the way they currently split their time between different parts of the job. We also discuss OKRs, communication practices, and how Jam aligns personal goals and values with those of an organization. Listeners get to hear about measuring the success of security practices, strategies for effective rollout, and the task of navigating organizational politics. To finish off this great episode, Jam shares some of the things that have influenced them along the way, from books and blog posts to colleagues and mentors. Make sure to listen in with us on the StaffEng podcast today!LinksJam Leomi on TwitterHoneycombErica Joy on TwitterAccelerateThe Manager's PathLast Week in AWSCharity.WTF
31:47 4/13/21
Mike McQuaid (GitHub)
Today we have a great guest to talk about his transition to, and current role as, a staff engineer: Mike McQuaid from GitHub! Mike is also a project leader at Homebrew, and brings a wealth of expertise and experience to the table, as well as the obvious added perspective that any engineer from the GitHub team would have. In our conversation, we get into a bit of Mike's journey up until now, the period of stepping up into the position of staff engineer, and how his time spent with open-source projects has influenced his other work. Mike gives us a good rundown of the different levels of leadership that exist at GitHub as well as painting a picture of the way he prefers to oversee engineers and projects. We talk about the healthiest ways to prioritize and tackle work and get into the sometimes murky waters of impact and value measurement. We ask Mike about what it is like working at GitHub where the people building things are also the ones using them, before discussing some thoughts on mentoring and sponsoring, OKRs, and the resources that have been most useful to Mike along the way. Tune in with us today to hear it all! LinksMike McQuaidGitHubHomebrew
47:45 4/6/21
Sarah Dayan (Algolia)
A promotion might be a climb up the ladder but, in actual fact, it’s a step in many directions. Today, we speak with staff plus engineer Sarah Dayan, about the many nuances of her current role at Algolia, both subtle and overt. In this episode, we find out what it takes to lead teams, advocate up and down within your organization, and why relationships are of utmost importance. Getting into the swing of things, we ask Sarah to tell us more about her background before she elaborates on the role of a staff engineer. She informs listeners that her role isn’t necessarily dependent on technical whizz and skill, but rather how she creates impact and implements beneficial change. Digging deeper, Sarah shares how she honed her skills as a staff-plus engineer and the need to add value in several ways; not just coding. For context, Sarah describes her role at Algolia, and you’ll find out how she tackles project direction and alignment, her approach to difficult conversations, and techniques for advocating up and down the company.LinksSarah DayanSarah Dayan on TwitterAlgoliaSeanwes Podcast
50:22 3/30/21

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