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5 Behaviours to Become an Effective Staff-Plus Engineer

Congratulations on landing your staff-plus role! The first question that many people ask themselves once they land the role is: what does it really mean? The role can vary even within the same organisation.

You want to figure out how to be a staff-plus engineer, let alone being effective. How do you achieve that within your organisational context? I personally heard a lot the phrase “becoming more strategic”, but what does that really mean?

You can try to be everything that people ask you, but that is not sustainable over time and it creates the expectation that in the role you work non stop and you have to please everyone. This is not what I advocate for in this talk and you have to learn to be comfortable with this.

One of the key most important things is your ability to get things done goes beyond your individual capacity to grow and mentor others. Is the name “individual contributor” apt for this role?

The tech industry has moved away from thinking that engineers work individually and collaboration is one of the most important behaviours you would have mastered by this point in your career.

In this talk we are going to take a step back and go through a handful of skills that applied strategically will help you amplify your impact.

Main Takeaways

1 Hear about 5 behaviors that can improve your position in a team.

2 Learn how to evaluate yourself to see if you are doing the right thing in your team.

Blanca, what is your background?

I studied computer science in university, I started as a server developer at a very small company in Madrid. I grew up in Spain. I studied there and had spent some time studying abroad in the US before university. I started working in Spain. And it was very fun because a lot of my ex-colleagues from university were in the same company, it was a very easy transition into the job market.

After a couple of years I realized things seemed to be the same, and I wanted to explore a bit of what was out there. I happened to meet people who had come to work in London and everyone said, Oh, it's very easy to get a job in tech. I grabbed some savings because I got paid very well since I started my career, and that financial security empowered me to think beyond. I moved to London and I started working during the crisis, the financial crisis back in 2009. That was an interesting start because it was a hard job market. There were not many entry-level jobs, which is what I was there at the time. I honed my skills in a technical support role, which led me to understand a lot how companies operate, how you manage client issues, speak to other engineers, engage with sales and go deep in the technical stack to debug issues. And from there I moved back into software development because I liked building products. I've been building products most of my career, mostly focused on the backend because I like that more. I appreciate the UI but I'm more about data. After that role and moving back into development, I took another jump and moved to Australia. I worked for a small e-commerce company, helping them rebuild their systems and doing a huge migration from on premise to cloud and going from an old system into a new content management system, which was Java based. Java has been one of my core expertise throughout my career. After a year, I moved back to London. I began working for the BBC and I stayed with BBC for the longest in my career. It was seven years. I was in a variety of teams and I ended up staying in the data platform team, which felt like my home base. I liked it because it was bringing my technical experience and software development and software processes, continuous integration, all the good agile practices, but then applying it with a slightly different focus. Because when you're working with data, you have to take care of other things which are not the code. The data itself, the quality, the integration with the data sources, also how it's being used because you do have actual people, not just automated reports using the data, they're going to be asking you how to use this data.

Is the data modeled in the way that is best for your organization? Small quality issues can have a huge impact in business decisions. That's when my thinking shifted from a software engineer to thinking about data. And that's when actually, I became a principal engineer at the BBC. I was a principal engineer for about three years, I think three and a half years. And that's when I began seeing, Oh, there's like a huge world out there. I am very software focused and very technical and I'm having to talk to many different people. They get a bit scared when I talk because I use technical terms. They have no idea what this means. And I just want them to be able to use all of this data, use these good things that our teams are building, and do their work on the platform we are building. If you're right also you make decisions which can be informed by data and at the same time with the tech team, showing the engineers how the things we were building, impacting in a positive way and focus on the things that matter. That's maybe a bit long, but that's where my background is. I left the BBC in January this year. I'm now taking a bit of a career break, which is a privilege in the industry. And I have a young puppy, it's just keeping me very busy. But at the same time, I'm engaging with conferences. You need to know people not just within your company, but also externally. I also help program a few conferences, I've been reviewing lots of calls for proposals for some of the conferences. It's a skill and it's really interesting with different ways of learning. But I'm interested in now and also keeping up with current tech trends and speaking with companies and understanding. whether the skills that I have and the problem spaces that are out there, whether they fit, looking for my next role.

And what is the motivation for your talk?

The motivation was that when I was a senior software engineer in my last role at the BBC, I saw that the work we were doing was really interesting, but I didn't really know where it was going. What were the challenges, how were we being viewed internally? And what was the impact that we were having and also what things we could do differently? I engaged with our product owners and leadership, and I kept asking the questions and one of the things that I kept resonating a lot with was, you need to think more strategically, you need to think differently. the things you have done, until now in your career will not get you to that next step. And I was just like, Oh, I was a bit upset because I was like, Oh, come on, I'm a developer, an engineer, I solve problems, and this is going to identify with a lot of people. But then I began to see that a lot of the questions they were asking me back, I had no idea. I didn't really understand the business because it's a massive organization. I understood the big challenges of the BBC, but then how to connect that to the technology area that I was working in. I began living more into those and trying to talk to people who were different, engineers, but also people who were not engineers. And there were a lot of answers and I got really engaged with that. that's when a position opened internally and I felt I do want to take a role that maybe it's a bit of a leap. It's a bit of a challenge for me. I'm not very sure what is going to happen, but let's see. Let's see how it goes. And that's how I became a principal engineer by showing that I do have an interest. I was already trying to push beyond the boundaries of being in an agile team. We're doing sprint planning. I was working on user stories and delivering work, but thinking more, how do you get to this? What are the decisions being made? How can I influence those decisions? Because I felt that I had a lot of things to say about perhaps how we were building the products, and I wanted our team to not make similar mistakes to what we had done in the past, which can happen when teams go through a time with a lot of people, maybe these people leave with knowledge. And I thought, I have a lot of knowledge about the historical context of what we've been doing here, and I want to be able to apply that to the leadership and thinking, where should we be investing?

How would you describe the persona and the level of target audience?

I would hope that there are some people who are in staff-plus roles, which is what we call them now, but also maybe people who are senior software engineers. And those who are wondering if there is a role and at a higher level, it is something that is for me because first of all, not everyone wants to do roles like this. And that's perfectly fine. But also maybe being a bit curious and thinking, what are the skills that you employ? Do I have these skills? Some people who are at mid-level or senior engineer roles, they already have these skills that maybe they're not aware that they're already operating at high levels. Maybe it gives them an idea, Oh, actually, I'm going to go for that promotion because I think I'm already doing these things and I have evidence for it. I think maybe more towards the software in the senior software engineer than the staff class, I speak to a lot of people on staff roles. And maybe I'm lucky, but most of them already know these are the things that you need to be doing. My talk might also be suited to people who are in leadership roles or managing people in staff plus roles and they want to help them grow their careers, my talk will be useful to understand the skills to build and understand where the focus staff plus roles is.

What would you like this persona to walk away with from your presentation?

I would like them to come away with questions for themselves. I'm going to talk at a high level about five key skills. But I don't tell people how to do things. I just ask them questions. I would like them to take away those questions and things like, what from this talk is a blind spot for me or something that I had not thought about? What can I do to develop this? Or maybe who do I need to speak to? I'm more than happy to speak to them. I talk to a lot of engineers and mentor and coach people. I’d like people to reflect: Where am I in my career? Where do I want to be? Are those two things aligned? And what do I need to do? I'm big on learning and applying that to career management as well.


Blanca Garcia Gil

Principal Engineer

Blanca Garcia Gil is a Principal Engineer.She has worked in the Data Platform team at the BBC, where she built highly scalable data ingestion pipelines and led teams improving access to data in the data warehouse and data visualisation.Prior to the BBC she held a variety of roles: web...

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Tuesday May 17 / 11:10AM EDT (50 minutes)


Staff-Plus Engineer Path


LeadershipTraining / Certification


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