As a Staff Engineer, you may find yourself in a large scope where a high-level manager, such as a Director or VP of Engineering, is absent, and where several gaps need to be filled.

While strong leadership, organisational awareness, and versatility are typical traits of a good Staff Engineer, exercising them effectively, in the right places and at the right times can become critical to the survival of the group.

At Back Market, a few of us Staff Engineers found ourselves in this situation over multiple quarters. The absence of a leader manifested at times through missed target dates, teams struggling with alignment and collaboration, organisational restructures being delayed, a general decrease in morale and more. All the while, high-value projects and migrations were ongoing and failure was not an option.

While our technical expertise and ability to contribute more directly to architecture and technical initiatives is what differentiates us from our manager peers, the gaping management hole forced us to sharpen our organisational skills and focus more on the "Tech Lead" and (paradoxically) "Right Hand" archetypes, than on the "Architect" and "Solver" ones. While previously we would jump in to help teams “solve” their issues, we found ourselves unable to take our eye off the day-to-day operations of the whole group and, at times, consciously steered clear of tackling emerging fires to maintain our focus on the group as a whole.

In this talk, we will detail our experiences as Staff Engineers functioning as Tech Leads, Glues and Facilitators in a leaderless role. We’ll discuss the real-world problems we faced, our solutions, and the lessons learned that allowed us to grow as leaders and as an organisation.