Principal Engineer: role & responsibilities

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Today’s article is about the role of a Principal Engineer as many people still have doubts who is this person and what is his/her responsibilities in a company. Here I would like to share with you the outcomes of the “Path to Principal: Defining the Modern Principal Engineer” panel discussion that I had a chance to attend. Also, after this event, we had a meeting with our Principal Engineer and software development team to discuss this topic as we noticed that in each company it is slightly different. So, in this article, you will find common patterns as well as our definition of Principal Engineer based on our experience.


Common patterns: what are the responsibilities of a Principal Engineer

Alvaro Garcia – Principal Software Engineer at Apiumhub, Ruggero Tonelli – Principal Site Reliability Engineer at Netquest, Felix Kerger – Principal Developer Advocate at King, Corrado Calzoni – Principal Software Engineer at Roche, Stephan Lagraulet – Head of Engineering
at N26, Annelis Gutierrez – Head of Data Engineering at Social Point, Susana Duran –
Director of Mobile & Conversational AI at Sage, Pablo Rodriguez – Principal Software Engineer at Oracle and Mustafa Sezgin – VP of Engineering at Glovo agreed on the following:

  1. Principal Engineer should understand the business and align with the priorities, converting them to technological solutions with KPIs.
  2. A principal engineer is responsible for the internal communication to rally people around the tech cause, enabling success at the executive and team level.
  3. Principal Engineer is in charge of creating efficiency where it does not exist. He or she is expected to be 3 steps ahead of the company’s needs, providing solutions that improve efficiency/scalability for years to come.
  4. Principal Engineer is a force multiplier. He or she becomes an enabler for team through collaboration and technical solutions.
  5. Principal Engineer is responsible for Depth as well as breadth. He or she is an expert in some areas and has good general knowledge about software engineering.It is not just about software development.
  6. Principal Engineer dots the i’s and crosses the t’s. Beyond writing code, he or she leads by example and take care of the details.
  7. Principal Engineer creates brand awareness. He or she is one of the key faces of engineering and the company and enables awareness of the company while attracting talent and participating in tech conferences.
  8. Principal Engineer is in charge of driving engineering culture. It is not only about creating the culture but also about being an example and helping others to adopt it. 
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What is the role of a Principal Engineer in a company

In Apiumhub we believe that Principal Engineer is trusted by company to ship complex software, self-direct in line with the company’s objectives, foster team spirit, offer division level impact and increase brand awareness by participating in events and sharing useful content. Also, we believe that Principal Engineer spends most of the time not writing code but improving processes, mentoring new engineers, oversight, and interfacing.

Other than that, Principal Engineer facilitates internal discussion and inspires other engineers by directing their work in a way that has been commonly agreed on. He or she, therefore, serves both as a role-model and a mentor to every single member of the technical team. Principal Engineer possesses a unique combination of unparalleled dedication to the craft and a fervent desire to progress.

The position of Principal Engineer is relatively new and we are interested in knowing your opinion and your experience in this field. Feel free to share it in the comments section below.

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