04 January 2022

Principal / Staff Engineer Resources

Dan Mayer
Dan Mayer @danmayer

Principal / Staff Engineer Resources

A friend who recently was promoted to a Staff Engineer, and wanted to learn a bit more about the role asked me if I had any good resources. I put together a small set of resources that could be helpful when aspiring or transitioning into Principal or Staff level engineering roles. I figured it would be good to share out with others who might be interested. I broke up the resources into a few different categories, so folks can dig in where relevant. It is worth noting that higher-level technical roles have a lot of variance between companies. Folks will find that they can often shape the role or find a company that defines the role in a way that will be interesting to them. Don’t feel like you need to fit into a tightly defined box, long as you are providing high-level value, there is a place for you to grow and apply your technical experience. You will hear of staff engineers who never code, while others with the same title still consider software development a core part of their job responsibilities. Whatever way you want to grow and increase the value of your work there is always more to learn as you expand your technical software career and look to have a broader impact on software development.

Staff and Leadership Resources

A few things actually focus on this narrow niche of technology roles. Overall, these are all excellent resources that I highly recommended. This list includes sources that continually create and add new content.

Staff and Leadership Articles

There are many good articles as well, but obviously these are more of one offs.

Keeping Up with Tech in General

As you are shaping technology decisions that can have impacts for years, plan to try to keep up on some of what is happening with the industry in general. Find sources that relate to your field, attend conferences, read newsletters, or listen to podcasts. Figure out the best way for you to low effort keep your ear to the ground. A few resources, I have enjoyed.

Distributed Team Resources

My friend and I both work on remote-first teams. A few resources around remote work, and how to lead tech outside of centralized teams.

  • First, if you are working remote long term, it is worth getting a good remote audio/video setup
  • I don’t think top down leadership scales particularly well for software, I think it is even less effective when distributed. Scaling Architecture Conversationally sets out a number of approaches to encourage a more team sourced achitecture with guidance.
  • Hashicorp: Distributed, Async, and Document Driven - learn from how Hashicorp builds distributed software
  • Remote, while this company seemed to go off the Rails (pun intended) and loose a lot of the good will they had in the remote community, much of the advice can still be useful.


Although there are lots of great posts, talks, and threads about technology leadership, sometimes nothing can give the big picture and the depth of a book. The shortlist of books below, stand out in my mind as worth the time.

  • Accelerate - If you want to shape how a software org functions, ensure you are basing it on research backed successes. This book summaries what is actually working best based on research.
  • The First 90 days - While I highly disagree with a few things in this book, there is enough that is actionable and will help you have an impact as well as understand what is motivating other new leaders, that it is worth reading.
  • The Manager’s Path - Even if you are looking to stay on the Staff / technical track many parts of this book will help you grow with parts of your job.
  • Working Backwards - Another book I don’t agree or like all the recommendations, but has enough practical and actionable advice on how Amazon scaled and managed to stay agile with massive growth, that it is worth reading.
  • Designing Data-Intensive Applications: The Big Ideas Behind Reliable, Scalable, and Maintainable Systems - Even if you aren’t handling big data (yet), this book will let you understand when and why to reach for distributed systems and tools.
  • Domain Driven Design - One of the most important things while scaling and hardest to fix later is bad domain modeling, deeply learn about building good data models.

Ruby Specific

I am mostly operating in the Ruby world, and my friend is also at a Ruby-based company, so some Ruby-specific resources. As you grow as a tech leader in some sense you will care less about a specific technology, but there are reasons to keep an ear to the ground for the technologies your business has invested so much in. As I have grown my career, I have found it valuable to stay up to date with things going on in the community. If your company is invested in Ruby it means your hiring, training, operations, and infrastructure costs are all related to Ruby, ensure you are using it at its best.

Enjoy the Role

Good luck with the new role and growth. As always there are lots to learn, but there is a growing community out there to find friends and mentors and talk about what you want out of your career. The highly defined ladder is changing and roles are more malleable as we move to more hybrid and distributed ways of working. Feel free to explore and help shape the ways folks can lead in technology, it doesn’t have to be a path to being a manager, director, or VP in all cases anymore. It is an exciting time to be a technical learner and leader.

If you have any good articles, sites, or books please share them with me, as I am always looking to learn more about what others in this area are doing.