Empowering Technical Minds to Advance Their Careers on Their Terms

by Tim Hennessey Jr., Global Content Writer, Rackspace Technology

Two Rackers discussing a project in a common area of the company headquarters

Since its inception, the Rackspace Technology® Technical Career Track (TCT) program has provided technical team members a path into senior roles without managing people or giving up their technical work.

We recently had the opportunity to talk with two TCT members, both Principal Architects at Rackspace Technology, to see what it’s like to be a part of the program. James Denton joined Rackspace in 2008 and entered the TCT Program in 2015. Our other Racker, Michael Bordash, came to us from Onica, a Rackspace Technology company, and joined the program in 2021.

Here’s what the best minds have to say about what it’s like being a part of the TCT Program.


Inside Our Technical Career Track Program

Question: When did you first hear about the Technical Career Track program?

JD: I started hearing about the TCT Program around the mid-2010s. I don't know that I ever considered myself for the program. Back then, you could self-nominate, but you really had to be somebody that could contribute at a higher level, not just a ticket cruncher. It just seemed like something else more talented people did. I think there was a little bit of imposter syndrome going on in my head.


MB: I was approached by my leadership team. I hadn't heard about it before that because I was with Onica, now a Rackspace Technology company, prior to the acquisition. The TCT membership is a handpicked role. Your business leaders will sponsor individuals to be candidates inducted into TCT.


Question: How do you actually “join” the program?

JD: Well, back to my imposter syndrome...Thankfully, my long-term manager at the time encouraged me to investigate TCT. I had written some blog posts for the Rackspace Technology technical pages and books on OpenStack networking and deployments, so I guess, seeing that from me, he wanted me to pursue the program. So, I got in on the first attempt, which was pretty awesome! My managers were definitely my sponsors and really hyped me up.


MB: If you are someone identified as a potential candidate, typically, you'll partner with an existing TCT member to get mentored and shadow them a bit. I worked closely with Travis Runty, Chief Technology Officer of Cloud Operations and executive sponsor of the TCT Program, and my senior director at the time to put together an application and induction package, which the program board reviewed.

There are a handful of questions to answer where you speak to your experience and things you've accomplished. You get referral letters from other people in the organization, that kind of stuff.


Question: How important is it for engineers to have a program like TCT, where they keep progressing in their careers without giving up engineering work?

JD: Well, looking back on it, I guess I didn't want to become a people manager. I had seen some of my peers who were sound engineers become people managers, and you could tell their engagement level dropped.

There's a thrill of being engaged in an escalation as an engineer or an architect. You enjoy building a new product and having hands on the keyboard. But, when you're not in the thick of it, as an engineer or an architect, you just genuinely sort of lose your chops.

When it came to TCT, I was glad to see that there was a program at Rackspace Technology where you could continue to sort of move up in the company and not be required to have people that you are responsible for or deal with review cycles and all those other things that never end.


MB: Very. I think many individuals want to progress in their careers, but you can only go so far, right? You're senior, or you're extra senior, or you're the most senior, etc. You hit a level there where the technical aspect of your job gets overtaken by business responsibilities.

It’s difficult to advance beyond a certain level without expanding responsibilities that include people management and HR-related things. For example, talking to individuals about their salary and performance and that kind of stuff traditionally turns off a lot of engineers and technical folks. They want to solve technical problems and complex technical issues that they can engineer. They don’t want to talk about performance reviews and how much someone's bonus will be.


Impacting the Business From Within

Question: What’s it like when you are officially a member? Does your day-to-day work change?

JD: Well, the joke is you get VIP access to the rooftop pool. But seriously, by the time you get into the TCT program, you've probably already been brought under the wing of your senior leadership. So you are prepared for what they expect of you. You've already been exposed to the levels and access of the business that you’ll spend more time in as a principal. So on day one, I would say nothing really changed for me.


MB: So, 90% of what I did before, I'm still doing it. I have the same responsibilities that may or may not change in the future, but nothing just changed overnight.

I'm a lead for a pod of engineers within Elastic Engineering. I've got a handful of engineers that I still lead. But now, I'm also working on some initiatives that impact the entire company. In addition, I'm working on some projects to help build engineering culture at the company level.


Question: The cohort meets every month. What are monthly meetings like typically?

JD: We get together on Teams and catch up on what's happening at Rackspace Technology. We discuss any projects that other program members need help with or areas of the business that could benefit from our technical support in the future.


MB: Yeah, during those monthly meetings, we'll have a roundtable segment, and if someone has a topic, it's an open forum to discuss those.

And as someone new, I don't have tons of visibility into different parts of the organization. So, our meetings allowed me to get exposure to other groups and functions of the company that I didn't even know existed. I can then take that information back and present it to my group. So, I'm almost like a conduit of this information, pulling it from the cohort and sharing it with my leadership team so that everybody benefits.


Question: You mentioned “getting more access to the business.” Does the TCT Program membership give you a “seat at the table” regarding company-wide decisions?

JD: As a TCT member, you get brought into the fold a lot more. Leadership, especially those who don’t have an engineering background, looks to TCT members to provide that technical voice when decision-making. As a result, they rely a little more heavily on the tenured folks, which just so happen to be program members.


MB: That’s probably the main change, getting plugged into higher-level conversations where you get face time with executives. You’re often pulled into those decisions that require technical expertise and relied on for decisions that will impact more than just my day-to-day activities. So, we provide the technical knowledge and the most up-to-date information the executive body needs for big-picture decision-making.


Question: What’s the best part about being a member of the TCT Program?

JD: One of the best things about TCT is that it’s not a popularity contest. You are vetted pretty heavily by your technical peers at Rackspace Technology. So, you can be brand new to the company, and you still get in based on your technical merits.

Also, I feel like it's really important that you’ve contributed beyond the walls of our organization for the betterment of the technical community at large. I think that I've done a great job of that, trying to engage the open-source community and being very involved in OpenStack. And I share this knowledge. That’s key. You can't just be in a silo of information and expect to get in. Part of the success of Rackspace Technology is being able to share what you know with other Rackers to help improve the careers and lives of others.


MB: Being new and coming over from Onica, a Rackspace Technology company, it’s been very helpful joining TCT and getting plugged into this society of technical expertise and kind of bridging that gap post-acquisition. I’m working closely with Rackers who’ve been around for many years and have a lot of historical contexts around different programs, how the company works and all that institutional knowledge.

Executives obviously want to do the best they can for the company. But the truth is, it's hard to make decisions when you don't know the full historical context of how that might impact other Rackers and teams downstream. Helping executives have all the information at their fingertips from a technical perspective is where the Technical Career Track program truly shines.


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