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Rackspace creates career path for tech execs who do not want to manage people

Ann Bednarz | June 16, 2015
Egle Sigler started at Rackspace as a junior programmer and later moved to a DevOps architect position before advancing to her current role: principal architect of private cloud solutions at Rackspace.

"We always thought that [creating a technical career path] was important, but it has had an unexpectedly large effect on the business as a whole, on our recruiting, on our retention, and on our ability to execute," Lindberg says.

Getting on track

To be eligible for the TCT program, technical people need to have advanced through the typical career pathway in their area of expertise; network folks must have reached the "network engineer 3" level, for example, and software developers must have progressed to the fifth and most senior level in their track. "You need to first get to the top of your traditional track," Lindberg says.

There is an induction process twice each year. Candidates come from a number of different paths technical support, internal IT and systems management, product engineering, and more. They are first screened by their respective business units, then by a global committee. People who make it through both levels are recommended to the senior leadership team for acceptance into the program.

Within the TCT program, there are three ranks: principal, distinguished and fellow. These levels are equivalent to director, VP and SVP, respectively. "Just as it takes some time to make it to a director or a VP level, these are things that people aspire to and work toward," Lindberg says of the TCT ranks.

The program is selective; among more than 6,000 Rackspace employees, roughly 50 are TCT members. "It is a very small group compared to the population of Rackers," says Adrian Otto, a distinguished architect at Rackspace and TCT program board member. "Everybody who's in the program has demonstrated tremendous capability and leadership potential."

"My style of leadership is more of a lead-by-example type, and sharing, teaching, and mentoring from that perspective, rather than a professional manager. When the TCT program became an option for me, I immediately gravitated toward it," says Otto, who was a serial entrepreneur before joining Rackspace in 2007.

Otto and colleague Aaron Sullivan are two of the four Rackspace employees who have reached the distinguished rank in the TCT program. There are no fellows yet.

Sullivan, a distinguished engineer, joined Rackspace in 2008. He is responsible for the company's Open Compute systems and OpenPOWER initiatives. "I'm not as effective when I'm somebody's boss. I'm a lot more effective when I'm somebody's guide or a mentor," Sullivan says. "It's more consistent with my personality and how I relate to people."

Once part of the program, TCTers are expected to carve out time for Rackspace-level technical leadership activities. The rule of thumb is to make available between one-third and one-half of their time for TCT activities.

"By freeing up some of their time to explicitly deal with Rackspace-level priorities instead of just team-level priorities, we give them the opportunity to work on things that are important but not always urgent," Lindberg says. "That's one of the toughest things for any business to do, because if it's not on fire now, it's hard to prioritize it correctly."

 

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