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Discussion on: What is a Staff Engineer Anyway?

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Patrick Sevat

Hi Doug,

Thanks for writing. I've also read the "What's an Principal Engineer Anyway" article, but I'm having a hard time to make the distinction between the two. Could you elaborate the key difference between those two roles?

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Doug Arcuri Author

You're welcome!

I can only speak of my experiences. My answer may vary to others. Comparing the two roles contains attributes that are similar - but are different on a maturity scale. In the companies that had these designations, the Principal was senior to Staff on the rubric. This included areas of mentorship, autonomy, and technical impact. Additionally, it was most likely that the Principal engineer's expectations include influencing broadly, outside the organization - in communities, recruiting, and patent/invention generation.

If you are interested in diving deeper, a new book on the staff engineer that will tackle its core attributes. In the brief summary, Will Larson noted differences between the two roles mentioned, so I predict it will be a great resource for further comparison.