👋 this is an experiment – shorter, punchier, less essay-y emails. A valuable insight that comes to mind but isn't yet a full dissertation. Lemme know if you like it.
From a conversation on HackerNews about what it means to be a Staff Engineer and how's it possible that you can have both managers and staff engineers. Don't their roles overlap? Are managers just shirking responsibilities?
As a staff in practice, but not in title, here's how it works for me:
My manager and I are at the same level. We work as peers. They handle the people stuff of the team, I handle the technical stuff of the team. They help with routing people/HR/management questions, I help with routing technical questions.
If you think "Gosh, that person (on another team) sure was rude", that's a question for my manager.
If you think "Gosh, I sure have no idea why that API (from another team) sucks", that's a question for me.
In terms of reporting to my manager it feels more like having a corner-man in the boxing ring than a boss. I fight the fight, they say "Hey you're dropping that right hand on your left hook, stop that or you'll get rekt. Here's some ice".
And the manager spends more time thinking about and navigating politics-like issues in the org than I do, which means I can lean on their expertise when "org stuff" is needed.
By "org stuff" I mean treating the org itself as an organism that needs help and healing. Like when different teams have different cultures and that causes problems. Or when there's misalignment between VPs and you don't know whose direction to follow.
In terms of experience, both my engineering manager and I started working around the same time. The person we both report to happens to be a true greybeard. One level up, you again get a younger person with less experience than that manager.
Point is: We focus on different things. It's not about who reports to whom.
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