The Unique Habits of the Top 1% of Software Engineers

The top 1% of software engineers are like gods in the tech world. They’re not just good coders, they’re experts at solving problems and leading projects. They’re the go-to technical experts, and they don’t get bogged down with non-technical stuff unless it’s a super hard problem. They’re the ones who get called in immediately when something happens in their area of expertise. They push boundaries, invest in people, and have a track record of growth. They’re the ones you want to work for.

The Interview

In a recent interview, a software engineer at Amazon, who previously led twitch and Prime gaming, discussed what he looks for in the top 1% of software engineers. He emphasizes the importance of certain principles and shared insights on evaluating engineers.

Evaluating Engineers

The interviewee, who was a vice president of engineering at Amazon, explained the process of evaluating senior ICs, principal engineers, and senior staff engineers. He highlighted the key factors in judging their impact and ability to make crucial decisions.

Technical Competence

The interviewee stressed the need for technical competence in senior engineers, but also emphasized the distinction between good coders and those who excel in high-level technical work. He highlighted the importance of mentoring, systems, architectures, and critical decision-making skills.

Non-Technical Capabilities

The interviewee also discussed the importance of non-technical skills in senior engineers, such as the ability to communicate, lead projects, understand problem-solving, and provide support to the company. He referenced the role of principal engineers as go-to technical experts in their areas of expertise.

The Importance of Leadership

According to the interviewee, it is crucial for senior engineers to invest in their people and demonstrate a track record of growth and promotion. The ability to garner more resources and scope for their team is a significant factor in evaluating their leadership skills.

Career Trajectory

The interviewee emphasized the importance of evaluating a manager’s trajectory and their consistency in promoting a track record of growth. He mentioned the significance of long-term relationships in professional settings and the impact of managerial churn on team dynamics.

Impact at Different Career Levels

The interviewee highlighted the differences in proving impact at junior and senior levels and the challenges of showcasing leadership and contributions as an experienced staff engineer.


The insights provided in this interview shed light on the essential characteristics and skills that distinguish the top 1% of software engineers. Evaluating both technical competence and non-technical capabilities, along with leadership and career trajectory, are key factors in identifying exceptional engineers.

Key Takeaways

  • Technical competence is essential for senior engineers, but non-technical skills also play a crucial role.
  • Leadership and the ability to invest in people are significant factors in evaluating senior engineers.
  • The impact and trajectory of a manager’s career can influence team dynamics and professional relationships.


  • How do senior engineers demonstrate technical and non-technical capabilities?
  • What role does career trajectory play in evaluating engineers?

About the Author

Namanh Kapur
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