When I first started my career I thought being a tech leader meant being the best coder. Then I thought it was a software architect that designed the best systems.
While these things are great qualities to have and help move the needle, they shouldn't be the aim of someone who wants to be a CTO of a company.
Good managers know their main purpose is to enable their team to have the best impact possible to the company.
A tech leader's purpose is to enable the best impact possible of the entire company. Particularly, using tech to improve company productivity.
Why a tech leader?
Role of Tech
Tech allows for steps in a process to be automated. When things are automated the right way, it has a huge impact on a company's outcome.
Automation the right way reduces human overhead which is a lollapalooza of:
- human error, time spent fixing human errors
- redundant or repetitive work (not requiring a human)
- communication overhead, issues, mistakes, and time spent fixing those
- management overhead, with good automation a smaller team accomplishes a lot more, reducing the total number of people
Quantifying this would be long-winded and it's common knowledge that tech makes human processes more efficient.
A quick definition
Let's define what I mean by company productivity.
Company productivity means the company's ability to iterate, and reorder priorities efficiently.
Company productivity is employee productivity.
Company productivity is the company's iteration cycle speed.
Company productivity is the company's ability to change direction efficiently.
Company productivity is not cost optimization.
Company productivity affects the ability for marketing teams to design and launch a campaign.
While tech solves a lot of the human issues, it has its own set of implications.
Tech solutions to problems have costs. A tech solution has:
- opportunity cost: what that employee could be working on instead of building this solution
- time spent building the solution, is time the problem still exists
- cost of solution (tech hosting costs, SAAS, etc.)
- ongoing maintenance costs: solutions are never static, they are ever evolving
Tech debt is a real problem that will negatively impact the company's productivity.
Tech debt negatively impacts the ability to maintain, debug and improve systems.
Technology is always evolving, new levels of technology address the issues of their predecessors.
- Serverless code is easier to manage than code running on servers.
- Static sites are easier to manage than SPAs.
- Prebuilt solutions and configurable tools are easier to manage than code.
Tech leaders have a lot of options at their disposal to solve company problems. They need to be mindful of the long-term costs on their company's productivity.
Increasingly, companies are stitching together prebuilt tools to solve problems and employee productivity.
These tools solve both the costs mentioned above.
Firstly, it's usually much quicker to solve a problem with a prebuilt solution than write code. Each solution has their own people iterating on their product to solve specific problems well. Or the solution is configurable for companies to adjust to their own needs. They have an API, plug-ins or integrations for other systems. The cost to build and maintain solutions becomes much lower.
Secondly, theres no code (or low code) to maintain, much lower tech debt. There is still tech debt, as the stitching of different apps grows, the complexity grows. The customization of different tools grows. There is still risk of a change affecting other areas of the system.
In the last couple years there's been an explosion of startups in this area.
Some interesting tools I've used to solve real business problems:
- Retool: create internal tools.
- Zoho: highly configurable CRM.
- Zapier: stitch together different tools.
- Shopify: highly configurable ecommerce store.
- Webflow, Bubble: no code websites.
- Headless CMS: content management system for any app / website.
- Kijabi: all-in-one business platform.
Technology and the tools available change all the time. Tech leaders need to stay up-to-date with the available tooling.
The tools I mentioned might be outdated within a month of this article. But, the aim of a tech leader will continue to be company productivity.
Companies are ever-changing organisms and the aim of a tech leader should be to enable their company to adapt, solve issues, grow and move as efficiently as possible.
Thanks to Cory Darby for reviewing drafts of this.