The Importance of Building Your Circle of Trust as an Engineer

Become a Better Engineer

Adrian Hornsby
The Cloud Architect

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“The answers will be given to those who are bold enough to ask.” ― Amit Kalantri, Wealth of Words

As engineers, much of our work involves ideating; the process of generating, developing, and communicating new ideas or solutions — whether it’s designing a system, developing code, or formulating innovative solutions.

In his book “Where Good Ideas Come From,” Steven Johnson explains that great ideas rarely spring forth fully formed from a single mind. They need time, nurturing, and refinement from multiple perspectives to truly flourish.

Where Good Ideas Come From. Steven Johnson

Johnson examines how groundbreaking innovations and concepts emerge from what he calls the “liquid network” — an environment that allows ideas to flow freely between people with diverse expertise and viewpoints. He argues that great ideas don’t just spontaneously happen, but rather evolve over time as they are gradually shaped by different minds scrutinizing them, poking holes, and building upon the original concept.

This is where having a “circle of trust” becomes invaluable.

The Invaluable Perspective of an Outside Voice

A circle of trust is a small group of trusted individuals you can turn to for advice, feedback, and honest critiques throughout this nurturing process. These are people who want to see you succeed, but aren’t afraid to constructively challenge your thinking to help strengthen your ideas.

When you’re fully immersed and focused on a project, it’s easy to develop tunnel vision or miss potential blind spots in your approach. Your circle of trust provides an outside perspective to help identify areas that need more thought or iteration. They ask the tough questions and provide the candid feedback you need to truly elevate your work. An outside voice can push you to back up assumptions, poke holes in flawed logic, and consider alternative angles you may have missed. This is invaluable for strengthening your ideas before going to wider review. As the saying goes, “A problem well-stated is half-solved.” Your circle helps you truly understand and frame the problem.

Additionally, getting early buy-in from your trusted circle makes it more likely that your finalized output — whether it’s a design doc, proposal, or code implementation — will be well-received when it’s time for broader review. Your ideas will have already gone through multiple rounds of scrutiny and refinement with your circle’s input, allowing them to be slowly develop and strengthen.

This iterative process is critical, as good ideas rarely happen in a vacuum. They evolve over time through thorough examination, trial-and-error, and a willingness to incorporate new perspectives. Your circle of trust provides that nurturing environment for your fledgling ideas to be challenged, reshaped, and ultimately strengthened.

Building Your Circle of Trust

Building a strong circle of trust begins with a courageous step — asking for help. While it may seem simple, many hesitate to reach out, fearing rejection. Don’t be afraid to reach out to those you respect and admire to bring them into your circle. More often than not, people are flattered to be asked for their input and genuinely want to help. You may be surprised by how many people are willing to lend their time and perspective if you explain the context and make the ask. I’ve rarely encountered outright rejections when inviting someone to be part of my circle of trust. Even if someone declines, you’ve lost nothing but gained the courage to try again.

Of course, people have their own priorities and deadlines, so you can’t take it personally if someone’s feedback comes late or not at all for a particular iteration. My rule of thumb is to ask 4–5 people for early input, knowing I’ll likely get feedback from 2–3 of them by the time I need it. That’s enough to make good progress.

The key is not burning bridges if someone’s help decreases temporarily. Approach it with empathy — we’ve all had periods where bandwidth is limited. Don’t get frustrated, and be sure to reciprocate and lend your time to their circle when asked.

Like any important relationship, your circle of trust must be nurtured through active investment and reciprocity. Make yourself available as a trusted circle member for others. Engage deeply when someone brings you into their circle, making their success your priority in that moment.

Over time, your circle’s makeup will naturally evolve as roles and situations change. Embrace that flow, and keep bringing new trusted advisors in your circle that can enhance your diverse perspectives. However, this doesn’t mean you should neglect or discard the older members of your circle; The relationships we nurture provide long-term value that shouldn’t be underestimated. Investing time and effort into genuine connections pays dividends well into the future.

Networking is a critical skill for continuously growing and diversifying your circle of trust. Your technical abilities are important, but your capacity to communicate and build meaningful relationships will be the driving force behind your success.

Consider attending industry events, conferences, and join professional organizations where you can meet and connect with other professionals across different roles, companies, and backgrounds. Don’t be afraid to spark up conversations and express interest in picking someone’s brain over coffee. Use social media platforms like LinkedIn to expand your outreach and strengthen connections. Start a blog to share your expertise and insights. Embrace every opportunity to engage with others, as these connections can open doors.

The more you network, the more opportunities you’ll have to identify potential new trusted advisors to invite into your circle. Diverse perspectives from varying experiences are what allow your ideas to truly flourish. Your circle of trust should be comprised of individuals with diverse backgrounds, skills and viewpoints. This allows you to get well-rounded feedback from different angles, exposing you to perspectives you may miss on your own.

For introverts, the prospect of networking can seem daunting, but as an introvert myself, I found that taking small steps, one at a time, was the key. Start by attending just one event, or reaching out to a single connection online. Gradually, you’ll build confidence, and networking will become a natural part of your routine.

The Ripple Effect

While the immediate benefits of a circle of trust are clear for individual growth, the impacts extend far beyond that. When each member feels genuinely supported by the group, it creates a powerful ripple effect that propagate through the entire organization and community.

A culture of trust, empathy, and lift-as-we-climb mentorship starts to take hold. Members don’t just look inward, but pay it forward by bringing others into the fold. New circles of trust organically sprout up, spreading that culture of nurturing constructive critique and collaboration.

What starts with your own ideas being pressure-tested evolves into an environment where everyone feels empowered to share vulnerably without fear. Teams grow closer and psychological safety allows diverse perspectives to be celebrated rather than discouraged.

On a widening ripple, this positive culture allows organizations to operate at their innovative best. Ideas can flow more fluidly across hallway conversations and team meetings. Solutions become more well-rounded and stronger when they are examined from multiple perspectives along the way.

Building a circle of trust is not just a luxury or career hack — it’s an integral part of fostering impactful engineering.

Wrapping up

Ultimately, building a strong, supportive circle of trust is, in my opinion, one of the highest leverage investments you can make into your growth and impact as an engineer. It provides a safe space to pressure test your ideas, receive ongoing feedback for improvement, and distinguish valuable perspectives from distracting noise before going wider.

Getting input from your circle of trust will open new opportunities in your career. Embrace the value of your circle — it may help you in surprising ways.

Adrian

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Adrian Hornsby
The Cloud Architect

Principal System Dev Engineer @ AWS ☁️ I break stuff .. mostly. Opinions here are my own.