The Reality of Being a Staff Software Engineer: Salary, Workload, and How To Get Started
What can you expect to get paid if you get promoted to a position of "Staff" Engineer? We discuss this as well as the work-life balance you can expect to have.
6 min read
24 Jul, 2022
Software engineering is one of the most in-demand and well-paying careers today, and it will likely be one of the most stable for decades to come. If you’re reading this post, you may be considering becoming or are interviewing for a position as a staff software engineer.
4 Day Week is here to help you figure out your next career move and help you find your dream job. In this article, we dive into the nitty-gritty of staff software engineering, including salary, and work-life balance, so you can determine if it’s the right fit for you.
What is a Staff Software Engineer?
Before we dive into the details, you may be wondering what exactly a staff software engineer is.
Generally, there are two tracks within software engineering: technical and leadership. A staff software engineer falls into the leadership track, however, most staff software engineers are required to have worked as a technical engineer first. Staff software engineers are senior-level technical professionals hired to oversee and build technical engineering teams. They often report directly to senior leadership, either on their own or as part of a small team.
Staff software engineers are employees who don’t work on contract or as freelancers. As a result, they typically have more stability than freelance software engineers. For this reason and their seniority, staff software engineers are paid more, but their salary depends on experience (more on that later).
What Does a Staff Software Engineer Do?
A staff software engineer’s job is not to write code and build applications, but lead teams and solve complex technical problems. However, things can vary greatly based on the employer and the job itself when it comes to the average day on the job, responsibilities, and work-life balance.
For example, here’s an excerpt of responsibilities of a staff software engineer at Google.
- Help build a team and cultivate innovation by driving cross-collaboration and execution of projects across multiple teams.
- Lead designs of major software components, systems, and features.
- Design, develop, test, deploy, maintain and improve the software.
At some companies, staff software engineers will have more supervision while at other places, they will be given more autonomy. Some companies may also have project managers assign team tickets, while at smaller organizations, staff software engineers may be creating the project workflow themselves.
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What is a Typical Staff Software Engineer Salary?
Whether it's passion or the high earning potential that drove you to consider a career in software engineering, you are probably wondering how much you can expect to earn. While a traditional software engineer (in the technical track) earns $114,000 on average, a staff software engineer has the potential to much more.
According to the hiring transparency site, Glassdoor, a staff software engineer's salary can reach up to $315,000 per year, depending on experience and education. However, the average salary of an entry-level staff software engineer starts at $100,000 per year. Obviously, this is an extensive range with many different factors that influence where on the spectrum you fall.
Here’s the average staff software engineer salary across the board:
Things That Influence Staff Software Engineer Salary
Several factors can influence your salary as a staff software engineer. For starters, salaries vary by location. For example, pay tends to be higher in Silicon Valley and other major tech hubs than in smaller cities. A staff software engineer's salary can also vary depending on whether you're an entry-level staffer (just transitioned to management) or if you already have leadership experience under your belt. As you gain experience, you can expect to earn more. Staff engineer salaries generally increase every year with additional incentives and larger pay raises when promotions are earned (for instance, becoming a senior staff engineer).
Software Engineer Salaries
Before you get started as a staff engineer, you must get your hands dirty as a software engineer. There is often an apprenticeship-like process in any engineering track that takes new graduates to senior developers. As you may have suspected, there are many levels within the software engineering technical track. For instance, a junior software engineer is an entry-level position and reserved for those just getting into software development. However, after earning their stripes, junior engineers will progress to a software engineer and then a senior software engineer.
Some organizations let senior software engineers mentor or even manage junior members, which is a great way to develop leadership skills before entering the staff or leadership track.
Junior engineer salaries start around $70,000, but more senior members can earn up to $250,000.
We’ve broken down software engineer salaries in relation to experience at FAANG companies here.
For example, a software engineer with one to three years of experience at Apple earns anywhere between $123k-$205k.
Staff Software Engineer Salary
Once you have gained enough experience and have some leadership experience, you can be promoted to Staff Software Engineer. At this point, you will be expected to solve more complex problems and effectively lead a team of engineers. A typical staff software engineer has between six and eight years of technical engineering experience.
According to Glassdoor, staff software engineers earn an average salary of $160,755 per year (quite a jump from the $136,740 average salary for a senior software engineer.) Although new staff engineers (those with less than three years of experience) earn around $150,000, more experienced folks can take home closer to $170,000.
Senior Staff Software Engineer Salary
While the definition of a Senior Staff Software Engineer varies from company to company, as the name would imply, a senior staff software engineer has years of experience and often manages staff software engineers. Since staff software engineers are managers themselves, senior staffers often have larger teams under them.
As you may expect, with more responsibility and a “senior” title comes a higher salary, with $169,317 being the average.
Staff Software Engineer Salaries By Company
Because salary as a staff software engineer varies employer to employer, we’ve put together a list of salaries at popular companies so you can see places with the highest earning potential.
Meta offers the highest starting salary to staff software engineers, but it has a lower ceiling than LinkedIn, Google, and Apple. On the flip side, Google offers the largest salary range with its Staff Software Engineers making anywhere between $129,000 and $303,000.
Notably, these pay scales do not reflect bonuses and other incentives. For example, Google employees reported making an average of $55,197 on top of their base salary whereas IBM employees only make around $1,230 in additional pay.
However, there’s more to a satisfying career than salary alone. Deciding which company is right for you comes down to how well your qualifications match a company’s standards and how you align with the employer's vision.
A Typical Staff Software Engineer Career Path
The typical software engineer career path is to start technical as a junior engineer, progress to engineer, then senior, and finally be promoted to staff. Traditional software engineering is different from other engineering careers in that it does not require an advanced degree but rather a skill set that can be demonstrated in technical interviews. However, many staff engineering positions at FAANG companies, like Google, do require a Master's or Ph.D.
Source: Software Engineering Daily
One common question prospective staff software engineers always have is about work-life balance. Again, the answer to this question depends on your employer. Technology companies have a reputation for promising excellent benefits but promoting a workaholic environment that doesn’t support balance.
Because staff software engineers are leaders, their schedule often revolves around that of their team, as they must be available to provide support when needed. For this reason, how much work-life balance you have as a staff software engineer ultimately comes down to the company culture and the message that is promoted company-wide.
However, if you are someone who values personal life, fear not! More and more organizations are transitioning to more flexible schedules. Some are even offering 4-day (32-hour) work weeks with no compromise on salary. If this interests you, check out our job board to discover such opportunities.
If you have a passion for leading people and want to shift from the technical track to management, staff software engineering can be a stable and lucrative career path. However, if you are interested in earning more while working less, 4 Day Week can connect you to the right opportunities.