Capital One's talent development of senior IC engineers

Drive your tech team's transformation with lessons from Capital One's Distinguished Engineering community

Many factors that drive tech transformation, but one proven factor is building a community of senior technologists to ensure collaboration, knowledge growth and sharing, and mentorship. Here at Capital One, we invest in the development and community building of our most senior individual contributor (IC) technologists, titled Distinguished Engineers (DEs).  Over the last few years, we tripled the size of the DE community and built a structure that supports this growth and increased collaboration.

Some of our Distinguished Engineers at the 2023 DE Spring Forum

Photo of some of our Distinguished we Engineers at the 2023 DE Spring Forum

So far, our DE community has helped redefine the senior IC career path and establish clear accountability for tech imperatives, which amplified the impact of this community, increased morale and decreased attrition. More specifically, our DE community aims to:

  • Develop cross-domain feedback loops to drive better solutions
  • Increase collaboration opportunities
  • Lead engineering excellence

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Develop cross-domain feedback loops to drive better solutions

Enterprise technology, like at Capital One, is complex. That’s why our DE community developed a well-defined feedback loop to share their expertise across domains. Two key components of this feedback loop include: A Request for Comment (RFC) process and DE Sponsored Communities of Practice (CoPs). Creating these two processes in your tech organization can improve integration amongst the different tech departments.

Request for Comment process (RFC)

The RFC process enables DE’s across the enterprise to ask questions and get feedback in a simplified and offline way. This process provides benefits to both the reviewer (Early insight into what is in development, ability to assess impact to your division and ability to provide input and shape proposals you’re not directly involved in) and to the submitter (creates stronger proposals by incorporating valuable feedback, heightened visibility for your idea, identification of divisional readiness and impact assessment and fosters inclusion). We also aligned this process to our Enterprise Architecture approval forums to ensure that initiatives are being reviewed by DEs in each LOB for potential impact before being implemented in the Enterprise. As the process has grown, doubling from 2021 to 2022, we’ve automated the process in JIRA providing a more streamlined way to capture comments.

Communities of Practice (CoPs)

While Community of Practice are not new to Capital One, historically, sustainability has been a challenge. To tackle this, we were very intentional about tying them to strategic imperatives, ensuring each one has a charter and a senior DE responsible and that each CoP was accountable to not just share information and bring like-minded engineers together, but also to create an intake process for the greater engineering community to drive enhancements and establish architecture patterns. 

Already the effects of the RFC process and CoPs have shown the power of bringing diverse perspectives and areas of expertise together to optimize technology investments at Capital One. Learn more about our COP and find out how you can implement it within your organization.

Increase collaboration opportunities

While each DE has its own “superpower”, there are many similarities that bring them together — their unending curiosity, demand for engineering excellence, focus on challenging the status quo and a deep desire to share their knowledge with others. By focusing on what unites them, while leveraging their unique perspectives, DEs are able to tackle enterprise problems that they might not be able to solve on their own through such programs such as DE hackathons or DE Working Groups.

DE hackathons

Our DE hackathons provide an opportunity for our senior engineers to collaborate with their peers as well as to mentor more junior engineers while developing  solutions for real problems that might otherwise not be prioritized.  

We've implemented a collaborative structure so far and continue to evolve it. This includes:

  • Focusing hackathons on themes linked to strategic imperatives.

  • Hosting an ideation session based on design thinking.

  • Giving all DEs the opportunity for input into initial opportunity statements.

  • Adopting an Architectural Kata (similar to hackathon but focused on developing architecture design documents).

  • Supporting participants with their proposals, making sure they're well thought out and architecturally feasible.

  • Including senior tech and business leadership in the judging to encourage prioritization and adoption.  

DE working groups

Another opportunity for DEs to collaborate is through the DE working groups which drive work from a consensus-driven, prioritized backlog. We formed working groups to address: 

  • Learning & Development
  • Impact & Innovation
  • Talent & Performance Management
  • Networking & Volunteerism

These working groups enable DEs to drive improvements for their community as well as provide an opportunity to collaborate, network and continue to build on their leadership and communication skills. This year DE working groups led to the creation of DE-specific learning programs, a two-day DE forum with external speakers, book club and networking events, refined benchmarks and promotion process, and increased visibility of DEs, internally and externally.  

Lead engineering excellence

As the most senior engineers at Capital One, DEs fuel our culture of excellence and innovation that accelerate transformations  and talent development across the company.  As mentors and leaders, they amplify, elevate and champion the adoption of the very best engineering practices. One example of where this happens include our DE Mentoring Circles, where DEs mentor junior ICs on discovering their superpower, building their brand statement, creating a networking plan, and practicing strategies  to invluden and communicate internally and externally more effectively. More than 300 ICs and 75 DEs participate in this program each year. 

We have also doubled down on ensuring a senior DE partnered with an accountable executive on our key tech initiatives and division led imperatives. Our DEs are accountable for defining and driving technical solutions that deliver key business impacts and guiding the tech teams. DEs are creating innovative engineering solutions that drive tangible business value. They also collaborate with AEs on course corrections and tech capacity needs as required by new business, regulatory and tech developments.

Distinguished engineers transforming tech

We're proud of the ways DEs are transforming tech and developing talent. 

Our focus on driving consistent expectations, processes, standards and outcomes across the enterprise helps technologists in their roles. 

Listening to and empowering the DE community supports their development and provides  people leaders with information to support their career journey.

Finally, presenting opportunities to apply their expertise and passions n a professional technology environment maximizes excellence and drives tech transformation across the organization. 


After 27 years at Capital One, I have decided to retire and embark on a new chapter in my life. I am incredibly grateful for the relationships I have built over the years and the opportunities I have had and, most recently, for the support and engagement from the Distinguished Engineering community. 

Laura White, Director, Technology, Cloud Productivity & Engineering

Program Lead for the DE Community for last few years with a passion for recruiting, developing and leading teams in a highly collaborative and creative environment as well as a results-oriented problem solver focused on building teams and capabilities that enable long-term sustainability.

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