Working class CTO

Progressive Working Class Caterer

It’s been a while, but I’m back to blogging.

I’m  naming this new blog Working class CTO because for the last couple of decades that’s been my job and I have a few observations. It’s a job that I have enjoyed and cherished but, one that has always been hard to explain, especially to my neighbors in Oakland.

Exactly, what does a CTO do? Like the cloud, no one really knows. Is it like Netscape’s Jim Barksdale used to say, “An engineering VP without a delivery date” (ouch) or is it fundamentally a kind of marketing job wrapped in the pretension of a vision? Or something else?

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been recruited by some of the biggest names in the industry for cloud CTO jobs.  Each one required a very involved conversation to understand what they were really looking for.

The answers ranged from silly, “You need to know the CAP Theorem” to honest, “We don’t know for sure” to incomplete, “Communicate our vision to the larger market”.  I passed on these opportunities.

They were missing the working class part, making great products. When I asked about team size, product influence, budget the answers were, ahem, interesting. As in the ancient Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.”

One  useful learning from my time at Cisco came from interacting and collaborating with several of our CTO’s.  Why several? Very different disparate businesses in different areas require different expertise – there’s no way for a single person to know all industries at the right level.

Some were very technical, some were more business oriented.  All were great communicators of the vision and trends driving their industry segment.

But while that’s cool, I’m a bit different. Back then, I started joking I was a working class CTO to distinguish what I did from those higher up in the hierarchy.

I meant to say, I spent time with my product teams getting into the detailed work of translating strategy and vision into products. The retail-detail, mundane toil of of bending the lathe of vision into facts on the ground.

Followed by working with our marketing team to turn that into compelling value propositions. Getting into the field to help the our sales force get the initial customers for the new innovation.

Doing thirty-four meetings in two weeks in Australia, dodging punches at a Newark train station at 10 pm waiting for my train while german shepherds jump,  sleeping in my suit at a freezing holiday inn 80 miles north of Detroit. That working class CTO job.

This blog will not cover the topics I have covered over the last few years, mainly service catalogs. The old blog remains up; 600+ articles and seems to be useful to a lot of people.

The (new) adventures of a working class CTO begin here.