Tag Archives: CTO

Eric Weiss: Building Products People Love



Joanie interviews Eric Weiss, founder of Full Cycle Product Development.  Eric has led massive development projects worth billions of dollars, including the Sony Playstation 3 and Qualcomm’s $9 Billion patent licensing machine. Eric is a product technology consultant and startup advisor and the author of Build the Right Things: How to Design and Build a Product People Will Love.

Highlights:

Q: Tell us how you got to where you are now and how you came to write your book.

“I’m an engineer by trade.  I’ve been writing code since I was very young, went to school for it, and started to work as a software developer.  But I really quickly learned that my passion was in product and leadership and startups and so I went and got my MBA.  I got certified to be a project manager and a Scrum Master and all this stuff.  I bridged the gap between the technology and engineering side of things and the product and business side of things.  I spent much of my career at very large tech companies driving very large engineering projects.”

“But then I’ve had this consulting practice on the side now, for over 10 years now, working with early stage startups and growth stage startups to validate their business model, to gain traction, to raise early capital, and then ultimately scale up and grow and get acquired.  I’ve been a CTO and completely owned the delivery model.  I discovered through experience that, while I was so focused on the efficiency of my development team, and having clean and clear Agile methodologies, nothing was less efficient than working on the wrong things.  I started really heavily leaning into product management and the user experience to make sure we were focusing on the right things.  This culminated in the book.”

Q: How do you get engineers to care about the customer experience or to see it from the customer’s perspective?  How do you understand what features your customers really need?

“Yes, engineers love technology, but more than anything, they want to have purpose.  They want to know the work they do has meaning and impact to benefit real people.  The other thing is that engineering is a really creative endeavor.  They don’t like to be told what to do.”

“The challenge is that too many teams are structured in a way and too many leaders lead in a way that puts engineers in this mode where they’re decoupled from the purpose of their work.  They’re not given creative freedom and they almost become beaten down and they get to where they don’t care and just want to play around with the technology because it gives them some enjoyment, but they’re disconnected from the larger picture.”  To hear Eric’s solutions to this problem and to hear answers to these other questions, listen to the episode.

Other questions that Eric answers: How do you build effective Agile teams?  How do the people on the teams survive a “never-ending marathon” of Agile?  What common people issues do you see in the startups that you advise?

Get a free copy of Eric’s book here.  Watch Eric’s talk on Agile First Principles here.

Words of Wisdom:

It’s not the velocity of our Scrums, it’s that we don’t understand our customers or ourselves well enough to know what the user experience should be.

People are the most difficult part of building products.  Technology is very rarely the thing that holds us back.

CEOs are an interesting bunch and have to be dealt with delicately.

Be fearless and go out and do things.

Contact Eric Weiss:

Website: FullCycleProduct.com

https://www.linkedin.com/in/ericmweiss/


Vladimir Baranov: Startup Stressors for CTOs



Joanie interviews Vladimir Baronov, who is a Founder and the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of AdvisorEngine.  They build powerful and intuitive technology for financial advisors. Vladimir oversees the company’s software development and technological operations. He has nearly 15 years of experience designing and building successful technology solutions.  Vladimir shares keen insights on the stressors that arise for CTOs and others in startups and how to manage them.  We also dive into overwork, how to talk about it, and how to maintain your health in a startup environment, and how to prevent burnout.

Highlights:

Q: What does a CTO (Chief Technology Officer) do?

“The CTO role is very differently implemented depending on the organization, but generally you’ll see a mix of technology strategy, software development practice, with the infrastructure, internal applications, data compliance and security.  Sometimes it’s shared with a CIO.”

Q: What does a CTO do differently at a startup?

“In larger companies, the role of a CTO is better defined.  In startups you have to wear many different hats throughout the day to be successful because you don’t have people in those roles to delegate that responsibility to.  At a startup, you also have to exercise hands-on skills more frequently.”

Q: What kinds of stressors come up for CTOs in startups?

“Let me start out by saying that everyone experiences stressors in startups, not just the CTOs.  Where the stress is the most concentrated is in the product development process, interpersonal issues, the inability to delegate, and overwork.  I have personally experienced these kinds of stressors and I’ve seen others experience them too.”

Q: Let’s start with product development.  What stressors come up there?

“Scope and client needs get merged.  A lot of translation is needed for both sides.  Business speaks to the client, then business speaks to the CTO.  Then the information that flows through the business gets converted into something else then when the CTO takes in the information and shares it with the team.  That’s another step when it gets translated for the developers.  It takes a period of time to fix that.  Basically, it’s the case of a broken telephone.”

“In a startup, process terminology is very different because most people have come from different companies.  Different companies have different processes and bringing that terminology can lead to a number of misunderstandings.  People may think they understand each other but find what they have agreed to has a very different meaning.”

“Another one is roles and responsibilities.  In a startup, you’re oriented around a specific problem, not necessarily a responsibility and things may fall through the cracks if they’re not the responsibility of a specific person.”

Q: What kinds of stressors come up with the people?

“The personal conflict that comes up in a startup is different than in a bigger company because the conflict between two people is right in front of you and not in a different office, or in a different region.  In a smaller group, any conflict between two individuals is a conflict for everybody else.  Everybody takes part even though they are passive observers.”

Q: How did you get good at resolving conflicts?

“It’s a lot of pain.  As humans, we experience it on ourselves and we think, how can I get away from this pain?  I dabbled in a little self-education.  I’ve read books on negotiation, on self-improvement, on emotional control.  I’ve taken acting classes on improvisation.  I’ve read books in psychology and on peace negotiations.”

Q: Is this typical of CTOs or do you stand out?

“I may stand out as a CTO, but not as a leader.  All leaders require this kind of skill set or they will not be successful.”

To hear what books Vladimir reads on leadership, how he manages conflict, delivers feedback, and reduces overwork, listen to the episode.

Words of Wisdom

“A startup only has a certain number of attempts to get it right before the client walks away.”

“Most conflicts have three sides: one person is right, the other person is right, and they both are right.”

“I think all of us are running our own startup of giving feedback, experimenting on the best way to give feedback.”

“Any feedback has to come from a place of empathy.”

Shout Outs:

7CTOs and Etienne de Bruin (for good people!)

RescueApp (for reducing screen time)

Contact Vladimir Baranov:

Vladimir@AdivsorEngine.com


Duncan Davidson: Managing an Empathy Wobble



Joanie interviews Duncan Davidson, CTO In Residence at Microsoft, Berlin.  He provides service to and is a liaison between Microsoft and the CTOs at start-up companies that Microsoft supports through the ScaleUp accelerator program at Microsoft for Startups.

What’s great about this interview is that Duncan shares his own experience with what he calls an “empathy wobble” when his company was acquired.  He shares insights into how it happened, what the impact was, and what he needed to change within himself to grow as a leader.  This is an incredibly impactful episode.  Duncan is candid and authentic.

Highlights:

Q: What kinds of things do you do as CTO In Residence at Microsoft?

“I provide tools for the technical people who are in or end up in the CTO role.  It’s everything from what are three reasonable architectures for running a in cloud computing, to how do you scale up from two people to twenty to 200, and how do you act as a technical leader in these situations?”

Q: Where were you before Microsoft?

“I was at hired at Wunderlist as senior developer on staff underneath the CTO/VP Engineering.  I was there to influence where we were going from a technical standpoint…  We were able to launch our product without a hiccup.  It was the most boring launch I’ve ever done.  Then we got acquired.”

“We had to go through due diligence for the acquisition.  Microsoft’s risks were much larger than ours because, if we brought in a bug, we could cost Microsoft billions.  We went through the process for six or seven months.  We went from having thousands of issues to a hundred to none.  In the end, we were pretty satisfied.  We thought the hard part was done.”

Q: [Ominous music] What happened once you were acquired?

“My goal was to have a successful integration, one where our team was seen as successfully contributing to the new company so we could buy our way into being relevant to the new company.  If we could guide the group through a transition like that, then we could write the rest of our story within Microsoft.”

Q: How did the integration go?

“What made sense to us from a logical perspective wasn’t something that a large number of people on our staff wanted to do.  Our team was made up of open source Linux geeks running microservices in different development languages and they were badasses at that. Microsoft had big enterprise things that had been around for twenty years, like Exchange, which were almost anathema to the people on our team.  We found that we didn’t have the alignment we needed in the organization.  As we went through this, we had a lot of friction in the organization.”

Q: How did you manage the friction?

“I found that I had an empathy wobble.  I picked up the term from a TED Talk by Frances Frei on how empathy wobbles can destroy trust.  Here’s where I ran into something interesting.  The logical side of where I came from was never a problem.  My authenticity seems to do pretty well.  But where I had the wobble was in empathy, being able to motivate people to get on board during the integration. I didn’t think I had a problem in this arena, but…”

Listen to the episode to hear Duncan’s gripping story of his empathy wobble…

Words of Wisdom:

“An empathy wobble impacts trust.  The decisions you make seem arbitrary to the people on the other side.”

“Culture is not defined by what you put on a piece of paper.  It’s the behaviors you tolerate in an organization.”

“We postponed a lot of things we should have acted on.  It’s in those kinds of situations where you find you’re not the good guy.”

Contact Duncan Davidson:

Email: duncand@microsoft.com

Website: https://developer.microsoft.com/en-us/advocates/duncan-davidson