Research software engineers (RSE) play a vital role in scientific discoveries worldwide. They lead the core development of the applications, libraries, and tools that enable today’s supercomputers to process the vast volumes of data generated from the world’s most extensive and complicated scientific instruments and facilities. This article describes the mission, culture, and practices of RSE teams at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), including their team dynamics and composition, work ethics, standard practices, and ever-evolving skill sets vital to pursuing scientific innovations and implementing novel ideas. We describe the lessons learned from specific activities that contribute to shaping the identity and growth of RSE roles at ORNL. Finally, we provide our view for the near future on effective strategies for establishing, leading, and nurturing RSE teams and building a thriving community in collaboration with science stakeholders.