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Author: David Noël-Romas (@davidnoelromas) and Alex Kessinger (@voidfiles)

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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).
8 Episodes
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 Twitter1Password
Amy Unger (GitHub)

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
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
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
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
Jam Leomi (Honeycomb)

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
Mike McQuaid (GitHub)

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
Sarah Dayan (Algolia)

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
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