|I've been working in software engineering for 18 years. I worked mostly as individual contributor (now as a Senior Staff Engineer), also I was an Engineering Manager for couple years. Now I am interviewing after a few years at the company, and I am hit by harsh reality. For the context, I am in Europe, not in the US.|
I like technologies and programming, I want to further improve my skills in designing and developing reliable and maintainable distributed system, make better technical decisions. Also, I want to keep learning and playing with new techs. I am now interviewing for the roles like Staff / Principal Engineer, My expectations for the roles like Staff / Principal Engineer are that while staying hands-on, say for 30%, I will primarily use more my skills in architecture, engineering, and communications to focus on large, important pieces of functionality, technical decisions with big impact, etc. I expect that I would report to a Director or VP level manager, so that I could be exposed to a big picture, collaborate with and learn from a professional who operated on strategic level.
In reality, I am now interviewing for Staff / Principal roles and see a few problems that make me rethink my carrier plans. First, the definion for the most of those positions looks Senior Engineers with a few more years of experience: so you are limited to the scope of a single team scope, report to an Engineering manager, just be a worker at a feature conveyor, just be faster, mentor young workers, maybe get some devops skill. I feel limited in impact in such roles, my borders and carrier are defined by Engineer Managers, who are usually less experienced in engineering and leadership topics than I am. The work is also very repetitive, there is not much meaningful progression, next level. I think those titles are created to cover problems caused by diluted Senior titles: an illusional career progression candy for ICs with some salary increase.
I saw a few Staff / Principal roles that put a very high bar on technical expertise, when only 3-4 percent of all the engineers have such levels, and again usually limited to a lot of coding and a single team scope. They usually have long exhaustive interview process.
An important problem with Staff+ IC roles is that there is a low salary limit as well, and you will face much more competition for top roles. Mostly salaries top at the level of a director of engineering. It is typical for a company to have 10 directors, but only 1-2 IC with a similar compensation.
I want to work hard, and see meaningful progression: in salary, in impact, in respect.
I would like to ask for advice. I believe there are qute a lot 35+ engineers here that faced similar problems and made some decisions for their careers. Now I think to plan switching to a EM track or to Technical Product management. Thank you!