Senior Engineer Archetypes

Wealthfront believes in providing engineers opportunities to have impact so they can grow at a pace that matches their experience.

However we have observed several instances where high-performing engineers would step up into senior roles and take on new responsibilities, but then unfortunately become unhappy or unsuccessful. When transitioning into senior engineering roles an individual’s contributions go beyond the code they write, but we didn’t have a common framework on how to help them chart a career path effectively.

Our engineering management team wanted to find a way to match an engineer’s interests and characteristics to opportunities and roles that would maximize the chances of positive impact and success for both the role and the engineer. We wanted a way to provide more clarity when working with engineers to craft their growth plan so that it leveraged their particular strengths and aspirations but also clearly identified potential areas for growth. 

By leveraging a set of Archetypes as outlined below we’ve seen an improvement in engineering success, and believe we’re on the path to finding a good way to navigate this common challenge. 


Many of our engineering managers are readers of lethain’s blog and related work such as We found the observations in the Staff Archetypes guide to be insightful and so adopted archetypes as a common language to discuss the roles that senior engineers can take at Wealthfront. The archetypes we adopted were: the Tech Lead, the Solver, and the Architect. 

Tech Lead

This archetype is primarily oriented around the execution of projects or initiatives, ensuring that the team keeps moving in the right direction. 

Engineers who thrive in this role get energized by driving the team and solving the organizational complexity that comes with working effectively with other partner teams or functions. They are typically organized, personable, and have deep familiarity with a particular area of the business. They also value processes (such as scrum) as an important tool for coordination. The growth paths for a Tech Lead archetype are primarily indexed around leading larger teams or more critical initiatives along dimensions of deeper business context and broader cross-functional collaboration. One of the things to keep in mind with Tech Lead-biased roles is that they typically have a higher risk of burnout given they are more likely to be exposed to personnel dysfunctions and business pressures (e.g. deadlines).


This archetype gets energized by digging into deeply complex technical problems and finding a path out of it. They thrive in the details, getting their hands dirty, and are more likely to bias towards action by producing code quickly. They are greatly energized by the inherent complexity of a problem, seeing it as a riddle to solve.

One of the common challenges with Solvers archetypes is that they are typically more effective when given freedom and so they may balk at processes and gravitate towards wherever the most interesting problem is in the interest of having a positive impact. There is a higher chance that you find a pure Solver archetype working on a task or project that wasn’t on the original plan. A combination of Solver and Tech Lead archetypes can be very effective as the Solver will be very effective in breaking down roadblocks, allowing the team to keep the team moving.


This archetype is primarily oriented around the long-term technical direction of the platform or product. 

Engineers who thrive in this role are comfortable in the abstract, building models and thinking about unified theories for their domain in order to solve systemic issues. They are adept at making useful generalizations without oversimplifying and applying the right models for the right situations, forming synthetic models when needed. This does not mean that Architects stay away from the code. On the contrary, at Wealthfront we expect all our senior engineers to be directly involved with writing and maintaining code to ensure they are getting first-hand knowledge about the state of things.

Quoting, one important consideration with Architects is that their domain “must be both complex and enduringly central to the company’s success.” We have found that ignoring this guidance can result in over-engineered systems which means we are careful where to create roles that leverage an Architect archetype. Another thing to keep in mind when managing Architects is that it can be difficult to measure their impact along this role. Their impact tends to be more diffuse (e.g. providing multiple small interactions of technical guidance) and the outcome has a long time horizon. Encourage your engineers that pursue the Architect archetype to document their long-term vision and translate that into a long-term roadmap (and then partner with the Tech Lead archetype to execute).

How we use Archetypes

We use these Archetypes as a common vocabulary to aid senior engineers and managers in discussing how to have sustainable positive impact. For example:

  • In a 1-on-1 between a manager and their senior engineer they analyze the elements of their responsibilities and how they map to different archetypes. They discuss which archetypes the engineer finds to be energizing, and which ones tend to be energy drains. As a result of this conversation, they may seek out a new role that is more aligned with their natural strengths, and identify an upcoming junior engineer who is interested in taking on their previous responsibilities.
  • During goal setting conversations, an engineer and their manager have an honest conversation about whether the engineer wants to develop skills in an unfamiliar archetype. They discuss how expanding the engineer’s versatility means that they will be able to have an impact in a broader range of scenarios as they learn to put on different hats.
  • As a manager is developing their team, they begin to realize that if they had a senior engineer with skills of a certain archetype it would make the team more effective. As it happens an engineer on another team may align well with that archetype, and so their managers discuss the potential to move that engineer to the team who could leverage their strengths.

Archetypes are not used to typecast or pigeonhole engineers. They are not titles or separate career ladders. We do not see these archetypes as mutually exclusive at all. On the contrary, at Wealthfront we encourage engineers to take on new roles and we have a track record of engineers experiencing rapid growth by taking on different archetypes as needed which enables them to be impactful in a wide range of situations. 


Guiding engineers in their career journey is a highly complex and dynamic problem (which is why we need great engineering managers!) and having a common framework like Archetypes gives us additional vocabulary to have more productive conversations about what types of roles an engineer is more likely to thrive in. As always, if you’re interested in being a part of this check out our open roles!


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