Moving into a new Staff+ position at another company can be a daunting prospect. Learn some ways in which you can build networks, contribute meaningfully, and avoid burnout.
Over a year ago I left an almost decade-long role to start a new one. I left the comfort of knowing the tech stack, the processes, and the people, moving to a job where I needed to create a network and develop from scratch.
Learning the ropes at a new organization is overwhelming, so I set myself goals to help me acclimate. These broad objectives outlined ways in which I would be able to learn and grow, contribute to the success of my colleagues and the organization, while also avoiding burnout. Using basic guiding questions I was able to reach the below 3 goals and adjust to my new position.
1. Learn and grow
As a Staff+ engineer, you're expected to learn quickly and start contributing fast. But, these expectations shouldn’t stop you from taking your time to go through the initial onboarding tasks. This includes getting familiar with your new hiring orientation, setting up your workstation, and working on smaller duties to get used to internal processes.
This is the time to build a solid foundation that will help you succeed in the long term. Once you’ve gotten past the initial adjustment, look to build your network within the organization to help you grow into your role.
One of the most important aspects of joining a new team is getting to know your peers.
In the early stages of onboarding, your manager is the one to help you in this aspect. In the event that they don't, ask them for a list of people that you can arrange to meet yourself.
Once you have an idea of which people are on your priority list to meet, such as your immediate team and your skip-level, schedule 1:1s with them. Try to find something in common between you and the person you’re meeting with. It might be that you both shared an employer in the past or that you like the same show – perhaps you have similar hobbies. If you want to spread your net wider, at the end of each 1:1 ask the person to recommend one or two other people to talk to.
Another great chance to meet people in and outside your organization is via “coffee chats”. If your company has them, participate. You could also join various employee resource groups, whether you identify as part of that group or are an ally.
“All-hands” meetings are also effective ways of enriching your network. Not only will they help you get to know more about the business, the customers, the roadmap, and who is responsible for what, but they will allow you the opportunity to build relationships. For instance, if someone gives a great presentation in your org, sending them a message to congratulate them on a job well done after the all-hands meeting could lead to authentic conversation or a scheduled 1:1 to learn more.
Where can everything be found?
Knowing who to turn to for information, during the onboarding process specifically, is invaluable. Information can be scattered between Google drives, Slack channels, Confluence pages, Jira tickets, your internal intranet, source code repository, and public documentation, among others – all of which are difficult to navigate if you’re not familiar with the landscape.
Ask your manager or colleagues about the main sources for finding information to get you started. If you run into documentation that is old, flag it for attention or, even better, fix it if you can.
If you’re cultivating a network of people within the company, make sure you know of peers you can turn to when you're stuck. These colleagues will be able to guide you if, for instance, you’re addressing a problem that’s already been solved in a different part of the product. One or two people should be enough to get started; they will either know the answer or know someone else who does.
If you’ve joined a new company in a tech lead or management role, don’t shy away from learning from the people you’re leading. They’ve been around in that organization longer than you have and they have something that you don’t: context.
2. Contribute to the success of colleagues and the organization
Staff+ engineers have a large impact within organizations, often helping to grow more junior engineers’ expertise, among other things.
To have a large impact, Staff+ engineers need to understand the product well so they can improve, augment, cancel, or change what needs to be. Additionally, as they work on large projects, there will be opportunities to delegate to more junior engineers so they themselves can grow in their careers.
Why is the product built that way?
As you learn more about the tech stack and processes, you’ll come across things that you do not agree with. When this occurs, take the time to understand the “why” behind the process or architecture, as context matters here.
Find one or more “historians” in your organization who have seen the product evolve and know why things have been done in a certain way. Leverage your fresh perspective to ask questions about the “why”. You may bring people’s attention to the fact there is no longer a reason for something to be built the way it is. This could lead to a major refactoring, simplification, or re-architecture, and could also help you to establish your authority in your new role.
Note that if there’s no documentation around the context or the “why”, create it. It’ll serve as a great anchor for new people who start, while also doubly ensuring that the knowledge of previous “historians” isn’t lost. Furthermore, as the product evolves, you can refer to the “why” and reassess the assumptions behind the product design.
This is probably the easiest and fastest way to contribute to the organization, gain visibility, and make things less ambiguous for yourself and others.
3. Be successful in your role and avoid burnout
Burnout has many causes, including heavy workloads, lack of motivation, and unclear or unrealistic expectations. To avoid burnout, get clarity on your responsibilities and create a realistic plan to achieve them.
What are your duties and what problems should you solve?
Being clear on what is expected of you is important at any stage of your career, but especially while you are new to a company. Your responsibilities will be your North Star.
To make sure you’re heading in the right direction, get clarity from your manager and skip-levels about what they want you to achieve, and then come up with a plan to achieve them. Knowing what your responsibilities are will help you define what success in your role looks like, which you can also discuss with your manager and skip-levels as they will know more about the business needs.
Understand what initiatives you’re responsible for delivering and their pain points; make sure not to rush coming up with the solutions. Properly absorb the ecosystem around you and understand the problem space well. Even if you’re familiar with the problem domain or technology, there are internal processes, tools, and tech stacks that you need to become comfortable with.
As soon as you have identified your responsibilities and success metrics set specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals. Make sure to get buy-in from your management chain about those goals as this will keep you accountable, helping you stay on track.
This will additionally help you avoid burnout as you will be able to spend your time on tasks that bring you closer to your goals. You will further be able to delegate projects to other colleagues, which could be growth opportunities for them.
Your 30-60-90 day plan
Here's a template for a 30-60-90 day plan. Make a copy and add additional items that are specific to your role.
Starting a new role comes with its own challenges and rewards. Being clear about your goals and intentional about your activities will help you flourish in your new role and it will give others around you the opportunity to help you in that process.