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What does a Staff Engineer do?

By Michael Linn
Updated: Mar 02, 2024

A staff engineer has a wide variety of job duties depending on the industry and even the engineering discipline within that industry. Disparate fields, from off-shore oil rigs in the middle of the ocean to sterilized medical laboratories, utilize these types of engineers to solve technical problems.

A staff engineer may be called on to solve any number of complex technical issues, yet he still must use the fundamental principles of mathematics and science. Applying basic principles, he must be able to understand phenomena such as how materials and systems will react under different conditions including extreme temperatures or pressures. If his assumptions do not match what is happening in reality, then he revises his assumptions or uses different tools to locate the cause of the disparity in expected and actual results. The end aim of this trial and error is to create or improve useful things.

More than one staff engineer is often required on a project. Within the aerospace industry, a staff engineer who is an electrical engineer may design the guidance system for a rocket. If he has a chemical engineering background, then he might formulate the fuel. A person in this position with a mechanical engineering background might design the rocket’s engines. Verifying that the systems function properly may be done by a staff engineer working in a test laboratory.

Staff software engineers can have a large variety of duties, as well. One might write and debug code to create the actual program while another may test the program to make sure it functions properly and does not crash. More so, a staff engineer may be employed to maintain the databases and networks where the software programs are being stored.

Accurate understanding of the scope of a particular staff engineering position during a job search requires careful examination of the job description. The job title is so nonspecific that matching an applicant’s skill set to the requirements can be more tedious than for other jobs. A thorough job seeker, however, may uncover a position that might be missed in searches focusing on specific job titles.

The training and education required for many staff engineering positions includes at least a bachelor's degree from an accredited engineering program. Most students in accredited engineering programs will need to take advanced classes such as calculus and calculus-based science. Jobs assisting staff engineers or doing hands-on work — those that fall under the job titles engineering aides and technicians, for example — usually only require an associate's degree or equivalent experience.

Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon353498 — On Oct 30, 2013

@ceilingcat: You do realize that "staff engineer" means "very experienced engineer," right? It's something you get promoted to, not something you apply for when you're fresh out of college.

By starrynight — On May 10, 2012

@ceilingcat - Searching for a job as a staff engineer does sound kind of difficult, but it's actually not that bad. I have a few friends who have engineering careers, and I can't recall them ever having trouble deciphering a job listing for an engineering job.

In fact, I know at least one of my friends is officially a staff engineer. As the article said, he works with several other staff engineers who have different specialties than he does. It's not confusing for them to have the same job title because they all know what their duties are, as do their bosses!

By ceilingcat — On May 09, 2012

It's interesting that the title of staff engineer can encompass so many completely different jobs. As the article said, I can imagine this being confusing for a job seeker, especially an entry level engineer!

Imagine being just out of college and weeding through a ton of advertisements for a staff engineer. But all the advertisements are for completely different jobs with completely different requirements! It sounds like it takes a tenacious person to get a job as a staff engineer. If it were me, I might give up out of frustration before finding the right job.

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