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What's meaning of the word staff when it is used in a person's title called senior staff software engineer?

The dictionary definition for this word is the group of people who work for an organization, but it is just one person here. So apparently, it doesn't make sense here.

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    It means he's part of or a member of, the staff.
    – Jim
    Commented Sep 14, 2013 at 8:01

3 Answers 3

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When staff appears in a title, it indicates a higher level in the hierarchy than for the same title without the word staff. Here is an example (from high rank to low):

  • Senior Staff Software Engineer
  • Senior Software Engineer
  • Software Engineer
  • Junior Software Engineer

Elements of job titles do not have globally defined meanings. What staff means may differ from company to company, but in many companies, staff will be experienced personnel who can be called in to help straighten out projects in need of guidance, acting as a knowledge or resource pool rather than as line programmers.

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    +1 I think this use of 'staff' is drawn from the military distinction between 'line' officers who command combat units and 'staff' officers who are attached to the central command and handle administrative, planning and logistical functions. Commented Sep 14, 2013 at 15:37
  • For example, a Staff Sergeant is one rank higher than a Sergeant in the US Army.
    – BobRodes
    Commented Sep 15, 2013 at 20:09
  • For programmers, should just be Software engineer 0, 1, 2, 3 ... n :-) Google also uses that nomenclature as well apparently: glassdoor.com/Salary/… | glassdoor.com/Salary/… (with Romans to make it fancy) Commented May 1, 2016 at 7:35
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"Senior staff" means that the person is senior within the whole company, not just with reference to the engineering department or function. As such, s/he is higher than just a "senior engineer," who is "senior" only within the engineering department.

The "senior staff" person has access to higher ups at the corporate level, above the (engineering) departmental level, and is their representative. But s/he also knows engineering.

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This is not the same meaning of the word staff as the common meaning where “the staff” is all the employees of a company. In “staff engineer”, staff is an adjective which conveys a level of seniority. From what I've seen, a “staff engineer” is more senior than a “senior engineer”, but less than a “principal engineer”. There is no “official” definition and the usage can vary between companies.

The general idea about these seniority levels is how much influence the person has: junior engineers generally do what they're told; senior engineers influence the other people on their team and neighboring teams; staff engineers have some influence on other people inside and outside of their company and have a significant impact on the design of the product; principal engineers have significant influence outside their own team and usually have been the main influence behind a new product.

The meaning is loosely related to “the officers chiefly responsible for the internal operations of an institution or business” and “the personnel who assist a director in carrying out an assigned task” (meanings 5a and 5d in Merriam-Webster), which derives from military usage (M-W 5b), but not exactly the same. A staff engineer is not necessarily particularly responsible for internal operations and the role is not particularly about assisting directors.

The meaning of “staff engineer” seems to be mysterious enough that a number of people spend some energy in attempting to define it, for example:

Note that the usage is different in different professions. For example, a “senior nurse” is short for “senior staff nurse” and is above “staff nurse”. The usage ultimately comes from military practice, where a staff officer is an officer who assists high-ranking officers directly, but the nuance conveyed by the word staff has evolved.

See https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/563389/usage-of-staff-as-a-seniority-level-staff-engineer about how widespread this usage is.

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