Monday, June 16, 2008

East coast vs. West Coast

There is no getting away from it in the US, there is the East coast and the West coast, and they are quite different when it comes to CTOs (in my opinion). This gross generalization can be easily shot down, but let me move ahead anyway. West coast CTO = super-tech ex-developer. East coast CTO = less tech but very business focused.

Have I offended anyone yet? Not my intention. My point is that we don't see a lot of transporting of CTOs between the coasts. But I love it every time I get to visit and do business in San Francisco/Silicon Valley. I have the same experience each time, technology rocks there. What I find myself doing is figuring out how to take West coast learnings back to the East coast. There's an easiness/flow to technology development on the West coast which is hard to find back east (along with a little more risk-taking).

As an East coast CTO, you should take every chance you can get to visit the West coast. My first-ever US trip (in the 80s) was to Silicon Valley, and that was my main reason for deciding to move to the US. I "missed" my mark and landed in NYC, but no regrets.

And talking about moving coasts, I am extremely happy to announce that New York got one of its finest back recently, Curtis Brown, the new CTO at Kaplan Test Prep & Admissions (my previous job), formerly CTO at McGraw-Hill/CTB in Monterey. Curtis is the quintessential New York CTO who combines tech know-how with business-savvy. Kaplan will excel under Curtis, and we New York CTOs welcome him back to "our" coast.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Agile and the social developer

I was talking the other day to a technologist who had made the switch early in his career from software development to infrastructure. I asked him why, his answer:- "I didn't want to spend days not interacting with people".

When I was a software developer, it was a lonesome affair. There was no open source community, just manuals and API docs. I got the occasional check-in from my boss and questions to a sysadmin, but mainly was left alone (and liked it). My response to passers-by as to my well-being was often a grunt, as I maniacally focused on the code on my (green) screen in front of me. But that was in the days before agile development.

Agile development practices require a developer to be social. There's a daily scrum, pair programming, end-users on team, kaizen meetings and the like, all situations which require high social interaction. Even open source development is by its nature social. There's no room for a loner.

One of the reasons I stopped coding and became a manager is because I enjoy social interaction (I've been accused of being a "social animal" :-). I do get a buzz out of an interactive tech meeting with developers, admins or CTO peers. For me, this begs the a/b question:- (a) Does Agile push developers out of their comfort zone to be more social, OR (b) Did Agile come about because developers want to be more social?

But clearly, an agile developer is a social developer. That's a good thing.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Interim CTO

When a CEO leaves a company, usually the first thing that happens is that the sitting Chairman is appointed as interim CEO. Their job is to steer the company until a full-time CEO is hired.

What do companies do when their CTO leaves? Usually get by without one while they begin the search for a new one. Something that I've experienced recently at both my old and new companies is an Interim (or Transitional) CTO someone to take care of technology until a full-time CTO is found.

An interim CTO doesn't start coding software nor configuring servers. Their job is to provide technology representation for the existing team. Technology teams need an advocate, and can feel completely unrepresented without one. Interim CTOs don't need to come up with a technology strategy, but they do need to mind the store, including shepherding in-play projects, running the budget, and executive communication.

iVillage had an interim CTO when I arrived, and his help has been invaluable to me as I got my head around the extensive technology footprint here. Its made me more effective. I could choose what to focus on first, fully knowing that anything I wasn't focused on was being taken care of by someone else. I recommend a 3 month overlap as ideal.

So, for any company losing their CTO, get an Interim CTO. There are plenty of talented consultants/ex-CTOs out there to help you, use them.