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Should principal engineers necessarily be managers? My company has non-manager principals, manager seniors, manager principals etc... Manager is just an extra title added to someone to give them extra responsibilities, regardless of their engineering experience. Is my company different than "usual"?

I don't know how they decide who is senior who is principal, but principal engineers are absolute rock stars. They know anything and everything related to company's engineering from hardware to embedded to massively parallel to machine learning...; and it feels like they memorized every line of code of company's codebase. My manager is a principal engineer, I am very junior junior (not even 1 year into industry yet), and sometimes it really intimates me how competent he is in terms of both breadth and depth.

I sometimes wonder if making such a competent engineer a manager is waste of company resources; not that being an engineer is useless but it seems like you don't need CS geniuses to be managers.






I think it is very hard for a principal engineer who is also managing people to be effectively plugged into all the things going on that make him/her a "principal" engineer while also being an effective manager, and vice versa.

I think it is just the opposite. Principal engineers are PEs because they don't want to manage people but instead be responsible for technical systems. That said, I've seen PEs be managers of small teams (~4-5 engineers) for short stints when the org had a need and there wasn't anyone else to manage.



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