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 This blog post aims to explain the career path in Software Engineering. Although companies’ leveling systems could be slightly different, the basic idea will remain the same. You can develop your best strategy to advance your career by understanding it.

To read the previous article about Junior, Mid, Senior Software Engineer please click here.

"The content in this blog series was originally intended to inform my agile team. Then when the intense demand came from my environment. I made it into a blog post. Unlike my other articles, this series contains exact quotes from the sources I have researched. You can find all the resources at the end of the article series."

Staff Software Engineer 


They are considered as the “Tech Lead”. He/she co-owns the success of the team with its engineering manager. On the technical side, the biggest difference is a staff engineer is able to identify and solve a technical problem that few others can.

  • Be able to implement the hardest part of a system/product.

  • Be able to ship high-quality work with best practices, like proper testing, well-planned rollout, and monitoring.

  • Be able to lead the effort of setting the direction for the team, like new season roadmapping.

Further insights

  • Be able to spot the biggest pain point of the system/product/org and propose solutions. A solution with a clear deliverable and milestones.

  • Most importantly, in addition to demonstrating the capability to leverage XFN’s colleagues(DS/design/PM/etc..). Staff Engineers also should be able to assess & validate their outputs.

  • Be a strong communicator, in both oral and written form.

  • Be able to leverage resources that are not assigned to the team.

  • Be able to recruit and onboarding new team member, both junior and senior.

  • Be able to influence org’s engineering culture, like adopt latest/best coding practice.

  • The percentage of their time spent coding differs from one person to the next, depending on the company. It shouldn't take all its time.

  • Coaching and mentoring role by sharing best practices with other engineers and creating new opportunities for their growth. 

  • Give technical performance reviews, aiming to improve the technical capacity of the entire engineering organization.

  • Staff engineers tend to work directly with permanent teams as well as pairing with other temporary project teams.

  • As well as technical strength, core leadership skills such as critical thinking, judgment, listening, empathy, and communication are essential at this level of seniority.

  • Lead deep, complex, or high-risk technical projects, and control the communication around them. 

  • They support the organization by providing context and technical direction, defining technical specifications, and documenting processes.

Principal Software Engineer


Principals have a deep, strategic understanding of company priorities, and make technical decisions to solve business problems. To do this, they draw on ground-breaking technical experience, an understanding of risk, and an ability to navigate different perspectives and priorities.

  • These folks are the connective tissue between the on-the-ground work completed by engineers, and senior executives. 

  • To be able to make good decisions, they need to collaborate (and be completely aligned) with engineers and management. 

  • They lead with influence, advising and asserting their ideas.

Further insights

  • Feed  culture of continual learning within the department.

  • Should be able to demonstrate the benefits of approaches to development and delivery. Tell the best practices.  

  • To be able to effectively communicate with the development team and the rest of the business about best practices.

  • He/She is responsible for developing and implementing the coding standards and practices of the department.

  • Responsible for the tools and frameworks used by the department.

  • Oversees the reusing of codes within the teams to avoid unnecessary dependencies while also taking effective advantage. 

  • Possess analytical, problem-solving, collaboration, and communication skills. 

  • Be able to influence org’s engineering culture, like adopt latest/best coding practice.

Distinguished Engineer


Very few people make it to the level of distinguished engineer. This role has an honorific status. Not all companies have distinguished engineers, and the ones that do are generally large organizations. Like principals, they’re here to make the technical product and organization run better, but there is no standardized way to do this.

  • Will play a key leadership role in the development and execution of enterprise wide business, data, application, and technical architecture vision and strategies.

  • You will establish strong relationships with the business and technology teams within the organization. 

Further insights

  • Teaching and driving improved communication of the architecture vision. 

  • Essential to driving the overall flexibility and scalability of the highly complicated environment of overlapping systems across the company’s business functions.

  •  Leading the creation and evolution of an integrated architecture program based on business and customer needs.

  • Demonstrating the business value of architecture as an enabler for business strategy implementation and technology innovation. 

  • Measuring and monitoring milestones for reliability, efficiency, security, operational excellence, and cost optimization. 

  • Researching and analyzing industry trends and best practices 

  • Sponsoring, developing, and influencing continuous improvement initiatives and experiments with innovative technologies.

  • Oversee large-scale, complex, cross-functional projects by.   

  • Defining software development guidelines, standards, and processes

“The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.” – Steve Jobs

We will continue the Career Ladder in Software Engineering writing series with Team Leader, Software Engineering Manager, Director of Engineering.

Follow the series, see you.


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