Staff Engineer

by Will Larson

Notes & Ideas

Work on what matters

Avoid low cost, low impact work.

Give low cost, low impact work to juniors, and use it as a leadership opportunity.

Mostly avoid low impact, high visibility work

You don’t learn much, and is ultimately disappointing to everyone

Go where attention already is.

Rather than trying to get everyone to look at the problem you’re solving, work on a problem everyone knows and cares about.

Align with authority

Know your managers priorities. Share your thoughts and learnings, provide context on what’s going on. Never surprise them.

Learn to never be wrong

Abandon trying to be right. People who HAVE to be right suck energy from the room.

Be clear, you’re always looking for what’s right, not who’s right.

Guide Engineering Strategy

Good Strategy is boring

Study your design docs

How different was your implementation to your design? Why was that? What did you miss?

Curate Technical Quality

Points of leverage for quality

Things that have a disproportionate impact on overall quality. Give them much more time, document your learnings.

Data Models

Intersection of state & interfaces. They should prevent the expression of invalid states. They should expose only what is supported. They should be tolerant to evolution. They should never be clever. Test them with multiple real scenarios.


Hardest thing to change. Test all failure modes. Test performance.


Test integrate numerous potential clients.

To lead, follow

Build a network of peers

Suggested Further Reading

Occasionally I send out an idea & ask for your thoughts.