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Tech ICs Are Leaders Too

At Torch, we think a lot about leadership, even in engineering circles. Leadership is an often used term when we think about where we want our careers to go. We want to move forward, we want to help people around us share the vision of what we want to accomplish. And we want to be looked at as someone who helps contribute to moving things forward. Leaders take responsibility for the success of those around them. 

Leaders aren’t necessarily interested in looking good personally – they make their team look good.  They consider how their part impacts the whole, not only in terms of features, but also in terms of teams and the organization.

That said, it isn’t necessary to be a people manager to be a leader. Leadership isn’t a mystical club that you get access to when you are put in charge of direct reports. There are plenty of managers out there that are not effective leaders.   

Leading Through Craft

As engineers, whether in a support, product, solutions, quality or other capacity – we spend a tremendous amount of our time honing our craft. This doesn’t always leave a lot of bandwidth for non-technical activity – and the player-coach paradigm doesn’t always work for everyone.  However, it is this command of our craft that allows us to lead in a different way. 

Individual Contributors, ICs, can often be leaders in their space. If we think of a leader as someone who runs toward the fire, asking “How can I help?”, we see a leader can be any member of a team willing to put themselves out there without regard to individual gain or glory – just focusing on the success of the team.

Engineers for Others

At Torch, we focus on building tools to mentor leaders, but we also focus on making leaders of everyone who is part of our team. We view a leader as anyone who takes ownership and responsibility for everything they work on, someone who is supportive, working in service of others. Leaders are people willing to do the undesirable work if it helps others succeed.

Sometimes, we see this type of leadership expressed by mentoring other engineers. Other times it manifests in the form of acting as a “practice lead” (around a specific technology), influencing others across teams in departments on the best ways to execute. 

“For Others” Doesn’t Have to Mean “Overseeing Others”

We want to build a path for ICs to be leaders beyond the role of Senior Engineer. Torch holds values that inform our ICs that managing people is not the only way to advance your career. We look to have leaders who leave their stamp on our company’s culture so that culture can evolve, stay progressive, and build diverse and inclusive spaces people want to work and grow in.

While we like to think we are unique in our attitudes toward ICs being leaders, many progressive companies are doing similar things. We want to ensure we enable as many leaders as possible so we can have the best teams and to build a better workplace. We have a similar career path beyond Senior Engineer inspired by the competency matrix published by the folks at CircleCI (a product we use and love). Staff, Sr. Staff and Principal roles have been appended to the traditional “Jr through Sr” path to accommodate Engineering ICs whose leadership performance is on par with the best people managers in our organization. 

One of the ways we work to ensure people can reach their goals is to work with ICs to understand “why?” they do the work they do, and how it relates to company goals. Both ICs and managers can then ask questions when these do not align and come to an agreement on how to realign.

We hope to develop leaders who facilitate discussions with other team members, graciously giving and receiving feedback. Communication is always the key to leadership – whether that comes from an IC or a manager shouldn’t matter. Our leaders take ownership and responsibility for everything they work on and come to the table with informed recommendations when the path forward is unclear. 

From the latest engineer on the team to the leadership team in the C-Suite, everyone has the opportunity to be a leader at Torch. Head over to our engineering careers page to learn more about how to join the team!