What Does a Staff Engineer Do? (Plus 4 Types of Staff Engineers)
If you're interested in advancing your engineering career, learning more about engineering management positions is an essential step. Understanding more about the staff engineer role can help you develop the skills you need to decide if the position is right for you. In this article, we discover what a staff engineer does, explore types of staff engineers and learn top skills to help you prepare for a successful career.
What is a staff engineer?
Staff engineers are professionals who occupy a leadership role in a variety of industries. They are responsible for managing and providing technical assistance to other engineers. They also frequently provide mentorship to junior engineering staff, using extensive experience to manage the prioritization, development and completion of technology projects. Staff engineers may coordinate several projects at the same time, typically under their area of expertise such as civil, mechanical, industrial or electrical engineering.
There are a variety of common approaches to staff engineering, including:
The tech leadership style: Tech leads are staff engineers who work with managers to provide guidance to a specific engineering team within an organization. For example, a team developing a piece of translation software might partner with a tech lead who has experience writing translation code.
The architect strategy: Architects are staff engineers who offer leadership for engineering teams by giving instruction, checking quality and managing implementation on urgent projects. They typically have advanced technical knowledge, understanding of consumer demand and experience solving technological problems in a particular area.
The solver method: Solvers are staff engineers who excel at analyzing and providing simple solutions to challenging situations. They may collaborate with company leaders to address engineering problems as they arise or concentrate for an extended time on overcoming a particular obstacle.
The right hand technique: Right hand staff engineers work on the behalf of a large organization's executives. They may help a company leader exercise authority over daily operations by adding their engineering expertise to solve problems and help junior engineers increase productivity.
What does a staff engineer do?
Staff engineers combine management skills with math and science proficiency to provide informed leadership to engineering teams and ensure they produce and implement high-quality technology solutions. While a staff engineer's daily duties may differ based on the needs of their organization, they typically handle the following responsibilities:
Overseeing engineering projects
Using expertise to develop projects, such as applying programming languages to help teams write software
Maintaining relationships and developing a positive team culture
Mentoring junior engineers and other entry-level technical staff
Providing engineering expertise to help executives make informed decisions about company goals
Planning and adjusting technical instruction for a project under development
Optimizing solutions using mathematical strategies that emphasize incremental changes, such as hill climbing
Helping junior engineers identify the most important aspects of a particular project to promote efficiency
The four types of staff engineers
Based on the industry they work in, staff engineers develop specialized technical knowledge that helps them design, plan and oversee development on particular products or services. Here are four examples of specialized staff engineers:
Staff civil engineer: These staff engineers typically work for construction companies, architectural firms or government agencies.They may oversee infrastructure development projects that affect natural environments, such as sewer construction and bridge building. Staff civil engineers are often responsible for creating a project budget and determining how weather and wear may affect a structure over time.
Staff industrial engineer: Staff industrial engineers are responsible for allocating personnel and equipment for a particular project as well as evaluating product designs to ensure quality. They typically provide leadership by helping teams increase productivity and creating project budget.
Staff electrical engineer: These staff engineers may work in a variety of industries such as electronics, manufacturing, transportation and architecture. They guide teams to create specialized equipment that supplies electricity to products or parts such as lighting, motors, wiring, circuits and computer processors. Staff electrical engineers may also use spectrometers and other specialized tools to evaluate and suggest improvements for electrical products.
Staff mechanical engineer: Staff mechanical engineers typically work in the manufacturing industry or related fields. They may provide technical advice and manage teams that develop consumer and commercial machines such as turbines, elevators, automotive engines, microwaves, refrigerators and robots.
Skills for a successful staff engineer career
Staff engineers use a varied set of techniques to manage engineering teams and ensure they deliver solutions in an effective and timely manner. Here are a few key technical skills that staff engineers may apply to their jobs:
Designing, such as programming or computer-assisted drafting
Developing technical products, such as software, engines or circuits
Maintaining company machines, equipment and hardware
Solving problems with mathematical equations
In addition to technical skills, staff engineers often use the following soft skills to support their staff:
Leadership: To effectively guide engineering teams, advise managers and assist executives, staff engineers apply highly developed leadership skills.
Creativity: Staff engineers help their teams overcome mechanical obstacles. They use creative critical thinking skills to help them quickly identify problems, evaluate possible causes and implement solutions to maintain a high level of quality and efficiency for every project.
Active listening: To promote a cohesive work environment, staff engineers use active listening to anticipate, prevent and manage social challenges on a team. Staff engineers may also partner with managers to offer advice and lead one-on-one meetings, which can encourage teamwork and develop a positive company culture.
Communication: As part of their daily duties, staff engineers often share knowledge with junior engineers, managers and company leaders. Developing communication skills can help staff engineers ensure they lead helpful training events, collaborate effectively with leaders and provide clear advice to engineering staff.
How staff engineer roles compare to other engineer positions
Based on the size and standards of an organization, it may use different titles to signify the level of responsibility a particular engineering role has. For example, a small company may have fewer engineering positions, while a mid-range company may add more intermediate leadership roles as it expands. However, many organizations follow the progression below for engineering positions:
Senior staff engineer
Senior principal engineer
Staff engineers vs. systems engineers
Systems engineers are multidisciplinary professionals who combine engineering and management skills to oversee projects and systems. Like staff engineers, they work in a range of industries such as information technology, transportation, manufacturing and product development for retail, healthcare and business. While staff engineers and systems engineers both occupy leadership positions and administer project management, the roles differ in the following ways:
Related: Learn About Being a Systems Engineer
Scope: Systems engineers create, apply and maintain systems to guide products from development to completion. In contrast, staff engineers focus on advancing specific projects by providing technical assistance, overcoming project-specific obstacles and supporting productivity through time management.
Collaborators: While staff engineers typically concentrate on working with junior engineers, managers and executives, systems engineers may also work other departments such as marketing and sales to develop systems related to customer outreach and distribution.
Responsibilities: Systems engineers are often responsible for designing security and safety systems, then managing implementation and maintenance. In comparison, staff engineers create plans for project development, mentor junior engineers and support managers by offering leadership in specific technical areas.
Technical concentrations: Staff engineers typically focus on the technical aspects of project development, while systems engineers may be responsible for providing system backups and creating standards for how an organization receives product feedback.
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