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The Software Engineer’s Guidebook: Navigating senior, tech lead, and staff engineer positions at tech companies and startups

In my first few years as a developer I assumed that hard work was all I needed. Then I was passed over for a promotion and my manager couldn’t give me feedback on what areas to improve, so I could get to the senior engineer level. I was frustrated; even bitter: not as much about missing the promotion, but because of the lack of guidance.

By the time I became a manager, I was determined to support engineers reporting to me with the kind of feedback and support I wish I would have gotten years earlier. And I did. While my team tripled over the next two years, people became visibly better engineers, and this progression was clear from performance reviews and promotions.

This book is a summary of the advice I’ve given to software engineers over the years – and then some more.

This book follows the structure of a “typical” career path for a software engineer, from starting out as a fresh-faced software developer, through being a role model senior/lead, all the way to the staff/principle/distinguished level. It summarizes what I’ve learned as a developer and how I’ve approached coaching engineers at different stages of their careers.

We cover “soft” skills which become increasingly important as your seniority increases, and the “hard” parts of the job, like software engineering concepts and approaches which help you grow professionally.

The names of levels and their expectations can – and do! – vary across companies. The higher “tier” a business is, the more tends to be expected of engineers, compared to lower tier places. For example, the “senior engineer” level has notoriously high expectations at Google (L5 level) and Meta (E5 level,) compared to lower-tier companies. If you work at a higher-tier business, it may be useful to read the chapters about higher levels, and not only the level you’re currently interested in.

The book is composed of six standalone parts, each made up of several chapters:

Part 1: Developer Career FundamentalsPart 2: The Competent Software DeveloperPart 3: The Well-Rounded Senior EngineerPart 4: The Pragmatic Tech LeadPart 5: Role Model Staff and Principal EngineersPart 6: ConclusionParts 1 and 6 apply to all engineering levels, from entry-level software developer, to principal-and-above engineer. Parts 2, 3, 4, and 5 cover increasingly senior engineering levels and group together topics in chapters, such as “Software Engineering,” “Collaboration,” “Getting Things Done,” etc.

Naming and levels vary, but the principles of what makes a great engineer who is impactful at the individual, team, and organizational levels, are remarkably constant. No matter where you are in your career, I hope this book provides a fresh perspective and new ideas on how to grow as an engineer.

Praise for the book

“From performance reviews to P95 latency, from team dynamics to testing, Gergely demystifies all aspects of a software career. This book is well named: it really does feel like the missing guidebook for the whole industry.”

– Tanya Reilly, senior principal engineer and author of The Staff Engineer’s Path

“Spanning a huge range of topics from technical to social in a concise manner, this belongs on the desk of any software engineer looking to grow their impact and their career. You’ll reach for it again and again for sage advice in any situation.”

– James Stanier, Director of Engineering at Shopify, author of TheEngineeringManager.com

Publisher ‏ : ‎ Pragmatic Engineer BV (November 3, 2023)
Language ‏ : ‎ English
Paperback ‏ : ‎ 413 pages
ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 908338182X
ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9083381824
Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 1.58 pounds
Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 7 x 0.94 x 10 inches



Price: $34.19
(as of Apr 03, 2024 14:57:22 UTC – Details)


In my first few years as a developer I assumed that hard work was all I needed. Then I was passed over for a promotion and my manager couldn’t give me feedback on what areas to improve, so I could get to the senior engineer level. I was frustrated; even bitter: not as much about missing the promotion, but because of the lack of guidance.

By the time I became a manager, I was determined to support engineers reporting to me with the kind of feedback and support I wish I would have gotten years earlier. And I did. While my team tripled over the next two years, people became visibly better engineers, and this progression was clear from performance reviews and promotions.

This book is a summary of the advice I’ve given to software engineers over the years – and then some more.

This book follows the structure of a “typical” career path for a software engineer, from starting out as a fresh-faced software developer, through being a role model senior/lead, all the way to the staff/principle/distinguished level. It summarizes what I’ve learned as a developer and how I’ve approached coaching engineers at different stages of their careers.

We cover “soft” skills which become increasingly important as your seniority increases, and the “hard” parts of the job, like software engineering concepts and approaches which help you grow professionally.

The names of levels and their expectations can – and do! – vary across companies. The higher “tier” a business is, the more tends to be expected of engineers, compared to lower tier places. For example, the “senior engineer” level has notoriously high expectations at Google (L5 level) and Meta (E5 level,) compared to lower-tier companies. If you work at a higher-tier business, it may be useful to read the chapters about higher levels, and not only the level you’re currently interested in.

The book is composed of six standalone parts, each made up of several chapters:

Part 1: Developer Career FundamentalsPart 2: The Competent Software DeveloperPart 3: The Well-Rounded Senior EngineerPart 4: The Pragmatic Tech LeadPart 5: Role Model Staff and Principal EngineersPart 6: ConclusionParts 1 and 6 apply to all engineering levels, from entry-level software developer, to principal-and-above engineer. Parts 2, 3, 4, and 5 cover increasingly senior engineering levels and group together topics in chapters, such as “Software Engineering,” “Collaboration,” “Getting Things Done,” etc.

Naming and levels vary, but the principles of what makes a great engineer who is impactful at the individual, team, and organizational levels, are remarkably constant. No matter where you are in your career, I hope this book provides a fresh perspective and new ideas on how to grow as an engineer.

Praise for the book

“From performance reviews to P95 latency, from team dynamics to testing, Gergely demystifies all aspects of a software career. This book is well named: it really does feel like the missing guidebook for the whole industry.”

– Tanya Reilly, senior principal engineer and author of The Staff Engineer’s Path

“Spanning a huge range of topics from technical to social in a concise manner, this belongs on the desk of any software engineer looking to grow their impact and their career. You’ll reach for it again and again for sage advice in any situation.”

– James Stanier, Director of Engineering at Shopify, author of TheEngineeringManager.com

Publisher ‏ : ‎ Pragmatic Engineer BV (November 3, 2023)
Language ‏ : ‎ English
Paperback ‏ : ‎ 413 pages
ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 908338182X
ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9083381824
Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 1.58 pounds
Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 7 x 0.94 x 10 inches

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