Kellan, Ruchi, and Stephen on how staff engineers are shaping the future of Dropbox

During Virtual First, we’ve found many new ways to connect with our teams from afar — through coffee chats, virtual volunteer events, online happy hours, Vibe Committee activities, and much more. But recently, our staff engineering team took things to a whole new level by organizing their very own virtual summit with the theme “Building our virtual-first staff engineering community.”

Staff engineers from across the world gathered virtually to discuss our challenges and our opportunities, get to know one another better, and get excited for the future. In a lively panel event, Sr. Director of Software Engineering Ruchi Varshney, VP of Engineering — Infra Stephen Voorhees, and VP of Software Engineering Kellan Elliott-McCrea got together to speak directly to our staff engineers, sharing their appreciation for all they do and their ideas for how we can become even stronger together.

How has our culture evolved since going Virtual First?

What role do you see staff engineers playing in the execution of projects, and what can we do to overcome some of the challenges we’re facing?

  • Ruchi: Often we do run into slowdowns when we’re working with teams across many different orgs, but staff engineers can really help surface these misalignments. It’s often this group that’s very well aware of the players and the context of the situation, so helping us surface this in a way that’s systematic and process-driven helps me to be highly effective in coming up with the right approach to get alignment with leadership on both sides. You’re seeing this and living this and breathing this every day, so you have a holistic view of the situation, and that’s a powerful insight this group can bring.
  • Kellan: Staff engineers can play a huge part in modeling a risk-embracing behavior. So often we see our roles as senior engineers to think about all the possible ways things can go wrong, rather than how we can help you simplify. That’s one of our core values that we’re still learning to embrace as a company, and I think that’s one of the things that this group can really help with.

What non-engineering domains can staff engineers lean into or engage with to improve their work?

  • Ruchi: I would add product marketing to the mix as well, they can bring another flavor of insight.

What are unique values you’re looking for product staff engineers to bring?

  • Kellan: 99% of all product ideas are bad; Dropbox is one of the ones that got lucky. You need to be building products such that you are testing hypotheses, and you need to know what you are going to learn from each iteration. So often, the heart of what’s hard is figuring out that risk-reward balance. What do we need to build to learn versus what do we need to build to learn based on the assumption that this product is going to work (because it’s probably not)?

How do you think we can create a lasting competitive advantage in our industry?

What is your five-year vision for the Dropbox user experience?

Interested in learning more about our engineering teams and the part you may be able to play in creating our future alongside them? Visit our jobs site.

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