During COVID-19, I received a few linked-in requests for interviews about the day to day challenges of a CTO. I have to admit, I didn’t participate but it did trigger me to write this post.
As a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) I am responsible for the operation of technology and its associated systems. So I am responsible for technical infrastructure, monitoring, deployment, development and all 3rd party systems and integrations. The CTO also delivers against a strategy drafted from a joint vision of the business vision shared by the board.
Day to day, the CTO makes decisions and aligns the technology research & development to align with the strategic vision (to grow and expand the business). Oh and let’s not forget disaster recovery planning and execution!
I like detail and I am quite hands on (at a semi-technical level – I like to look at a product in two ways (a) perspective of the users and (b) the software design and architecture). I think a good CTO is one that works with his or her teams and seeks different perspectives. My team are experts so I like to debate the technology and how we’re using it. I hold regular meetings to debate approaches including tech which might be unfamiliar.
Continuous innovation is essential. Maintaining status quo keeping everything as-is creates a legacy model and that is not good for your staff, the solution, or investment. You have to consider the life time of the technology. No one wants to be working on 5 year+ old technology, with no innovation, that will soon be expensive to maintain and limiting. Change is often necessary, evaluating and assessing what and when is a decision of strategy, risk and performance.
Innovation and an innovation culture plays a large part of what a CTO has to develop and cultivate to deliver innovation. Innovation has to be balanced, constant R&D would be great, but R&D alone doesn’t pay the bills! I aim for about 15-20% innovation in a normal sprint team, and also set aside time each quarter for brain storming and workshopping new ideas.
I usually work in boxes of time and split my time as follows;
- Responding to emails, reviewing actions and ensuring that things are moving in the right direction.
- Looking at new opportunities and new technology which would help grow or support the strategy.
- Reviewing others’ work, reading technical documents, debating and reviewing deliverables.
- Engaging with clients, helping them with new opportunities and helping them grow (through product innovation and iteration)
- Reviewing performance and governance of our teams and systems.
- Team mentoring, support, escalations, 1:1s and general team updates.
- Stakeholder management, supporting and influencing groups of people on a specific perspective and how you see the opportunity.
The split depends on the specific demands of the day. I’m regularly engaging with the team, my clients, my products, and my stakeholders.
This might sound a lot, but I am the director, my teams execute their amazing work. I aim to create a enjoyable and exciting place to work, in a way which is approachable. This I believe is essential to a great team.
No idea is bad (mostly!), mistakes can be made as long as we learn. If we fail we have to fail fast. Learning is essential, my role is to prevent us from making the same mistakes. Poor design patterns, non-extendable code, too many dependencies and so forth whilst we iterate and repeat.
Where do I get my inspiration?
I have a good relationship with cloud partners. Google especially are great at offering great materials and conferences. These conferences often give me time out to think about alternative perspectives on various topics and these spark ideas and opportunities.
I follow various products and industries online, and regularly review those to see new trends and technology uses.
I periodically attend specific industry conferences and churn opportunities and relationships which can help grow my products and my clients products (they’re often sponsored by some technology and/or have a case study behind it).
I spend time understanding my clients and my customers. I enjoy understanding their businesses. Our clients and users often come up with brilliant ideas which can be turned into solutions which will help them increase their business.
As CTO you have to make some challenging decisions, you have to lead well, influence your team(s) when necessary and constantly innovate to deliver cutting edge efficient projects.
The role is a balance of business decision making, technical assessment and inter personal skills to deliver business value through technological innovation and delivery.