A staff engineer has a wide variety of job duties depending on the industry and even the engineering discipline within that industry. Disparate fields, from off-shore oil rigs in the middle of the ocean to sterilized medical laboratories, utilize these types of engineers to solve technical problems.
A staff engineer may be called on to solve any number of complex technical issues, yet he still must use the fundamental principles of mathematics and science. Applying basic principles, he must be able to understand phenomena such as how materials and systems will react under different conditions including extreme temperatures or pressures. If his assumptions do not match what is happening in reality, then he revises his assumptions or uses different tools to locate the cause of the disparity in expected and actual results. The end aim of this trial and error is to create or improve useful things.
More than one staff engineer is often required on a project. Within the aerospace industry, a staff engineer who is an electrical engineer may design the guidance system for a rocket. If he has a chemical engineering background, then he might formulate the fuel. A person in this position with a mechanical engineering background might design the rocket’s engines. Verifying that the systems function properly may be done by a staff engineer working in a test laboratory.
Staff software engineers can have a large variety of duties, as well. One might write and debug code to create the actual program while another may test the program to make sure it functions properly and does not crash. More so, a staff engineer may be employed to maintain the databases and networks where the software programs are being stored.
Accurate understanding of the scope of a particular staff engineering position during a job search requires careful examination of the job description. The job title is so nonspecific that matching an applicant’s skill set to the requirements can be more tedious than for other jobs. A thorough job seeker, however, may uncover a position that might be missed in searches focusing on specific job titles.
The training and education required for many staff engineering positions includes at least a bachelor's degree from an accredited engineering program. Most students in accredited engineering programs will need to take advanced classes such as calculus and calculus-based science. Jobs assisting staff engineers or doing hands-on work — those that fall under the job titles engineering aides and technicians, for example — usually only require an associate's degree or equivalent experience.