Rackspace’s Technical Career Track program isn’t for the smartest Rackers, or those with the most technical skill.
It’s for the smartest, most technically-skilled Rackers who’ve also demonstrated strong leaderships skills — but don’t want to follow the traditional management path to the top.
“It’s not just ‘a career track for technical Rackers,’” said Casey Andrews, who serves as chief of staff to the office of the chief technology officer and co-manages the TCT program with Vice-President and Associate General Counsel Van Lindberg. “Most Rackers are technical. This is a program for those with the combination of the highest technical expertise and the ability to influence and impact.”
Andrews is only partly joking when she refers to herself as “the shepherd of the unicorns.”
The TCT, which inducted ten new members and promoted one last week, was not always the meaty program it is today. Begun almost five years ago, it sought to offer technical Rackers a way to climb the career ladder without managing people, something not uncommon at other tech firms.
But it wasn’t terribly well designed, said Andrews, and a year and a half ago, then-President, now CEO Taylor Rhodes “basically said, ‘Make it real or make it go away.’”
Together, Andrews and Lindberg (something of a unicorn himself; with his engineering background, he plays a dual legal/technical role at Rackspace), created a more rigorous and consistent structure around the program while raising the equivalent job positions of the three levels, principal, distinguished and fellow.
Principals are now considered director-level positions, while distinguished is on par with vice president. At this most recent induction ceremony (they take place every six months), Adrian Otto became just the fourth distinguished architect in the program. As of yet, there are no fellows.
Otto recently spoke to NetworkWorld about his role in the TCT:
“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.
NetworkWorld also spoke to Egle Sigler, principal architect of private cloud solutions at Rackspace, about how membership in the TCT has expanded her professional scope:
Sigler is a board member at OpenStack Foundation and co-chair of the DefCore committee, which works on minimum-requirements specifications for OpenStack. Rackspace — one of the original founders of OpenStack — has two DefCore-certified OpenStack clouds.
“That has been a great initiative that combines the technical leadership aspect of the job with the technical,” Sigler said of her DefCore work. “It kind of merged my day job with my OpenStack Foundation job with TCT.”
Sigler also made time to co-write a book (DevOps for VMware Administrators), and she’s working on another one. She has served for two years on the governing board for POWER (Professional Organization of Women Empowered at Rackspace), Rackspace’s internal employee resource group dedicated to empowering women in technology.
“I’m really fortunate that we have the TCT program. I don’t really see how else I could be doing all these different things that I am,” she says.
As Rhodes noted during last week’s ceremony, the latest group of inductees included other notables, like Brad Gignac, the first TCTer from the company’s Blacksburg, Virginia offices, home to Rackspace Email and Apps; Phil Hopkins, the first inductee from Human Resources, who flies all over the country training other Rackers and Kim Wilkins, just the fourth woman to be inducted, and the first out of the Database BU.
“I’m honored and excited,” said Wilkins, who left Electronic Arts almost a year and a half ago to join ObjectRocket because she was interested in working with NoSQL after more than 16 years working with Oracle technologies.
She acknowledges that gender bias still exists in the tech industry, but she said she’s been pleased with Rackspace’s efforts to narrow the gap.
“They’ve been thoughtful and pro-active in hiring and promoting women but still based on technical skill.” she said.
Rounding out the recent inductees are Micheal Barton, Chris Clark, Mike DeFelice, James Denton, Ricky Donato, Luke Huckaba and Mark Morga.
Denton, an OpenStack network architect, Neutron expert and author of the popular book of the same name, said he was looking forward to increased opportunity coming with his TCT induction.
“One of the refreshing things about working here is that I’ll never reach the pinnacle; there will always be someone here I can turn to and learn from.”
Scott Crenshaw, vice president of strategy, product and development, who has had the chance to interact with many of the now 60 or so TCT members, marveled at their depth of expertise, knowledge and passion.
“This community is unlike anything I’ve seen before,” he said. “TCT truly helps drive the agenda … the leadership team needs this community.”