The Virgin CTO

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There I was, a young developer, suddenly thrust into the role of CTO. Right off the bat I was given quite the budget. Working with another talented and trusted programmer, I naively handed the reigns over to him and told him to hire a bunch of people and assemble a team. We brought about 10-15 people on board and began to develop like crazy. Within a month it was an absolute mess.

Keep the team tight

Although delegation is essential, I still have to offer a structure under which my teams are built. Second, I need to know how to validate and monitor my leaders. And third, the person who brought you growth might not always be the right person to manage things later. Some people create and others manage. You can do both, but not always. It returns to the concept of the modern CTO. Not all developers are built for the job.

In general, I follow these simple guidelines when building teams:

  • No more than five people total
  • 1-3 developers
  • 1-2 designers
  • Separate the back end from the front
  • Each team has very specific goals

Turns out this approach is backed up by data. A QSM study compared large development teams (around 20 people) to small ones (5 people). For time to finish, large teams got things done about a week sooner. But when you look at cost, big teams spent an average of $1.8M while the small teams only spent $245k. Ouch.

Teams are like code  

My teams are structured the way I like to structure code – clean, concise, and with a keenly defined goal. They are small isolated classes that have a single responsibility. It brings to mind the Law of Demeter which is an old code that withstood the test of time and still works brilliantly. Why makes the Demeter application so resilient? The structure of the code base is small and distributed, and it designates single responsibilities. Development teams thrive under this structure as well.

For example, for large projects I’ll break out teams to build iOS, Android, or React Native bindings while other components are being developed by other teams. When the time comes for integration, everything is ready to be assembled. I also follow the business world’s lead. That is, I have high level leaders who then manage leaders within smaller teams. This sets up a diverse ecosystem, kind of like a rainforest, with each individual component doing its thing to achieve a larger integrated goal.

Group remote workers together since they get it

Today’s enterprise has people located all over the planet. How do I handle time zone differences? Here, I’ve discovered another key factor: experience – but not experience measured in years, but rather whether they’ve been part of teams with scattered time zones. It’s an acquired skill versus those accustomed to working with people only in their own time zone. So I group the odd time zoners together. I also avoid micromanagement completely. In fact, I only intervene if they don’t reach their goals. Free thinking people produce better things faster.

Yes, you may sit with Timmy

Finally, personality mix is hugely important to me. As a tech person, I must realize that people aren’t widgets that work well no matter where you plug them into.  If needed, I’ll move people across teams to find the right combination. I scan for personality conflicts constantly since they always hamstring progress. Think about it. What makes you more mad at work than anything? A person’s attitude, right? How much time and energy is wasted fuming over someone that bugs you? I keep my teams lean and harmonious, and we all go home smiling at the end of the day.

Leverage others experience

Team growing? Looking to establish a local or remote culture? This can be tricky. The people at the top in life are always working, growing and improving with the help of others. It’s how you got to where you are, and it’s how you will get up through the next stage on your journey. I have experience that you can leverage. If you don’t use me, use someone else. The point is for you to get what is on your mind resolved immediately, don’t wait. Set an appointment with me and tell me about your situation so I can help. Click this link to reach out. Something else on your mind? Whatever you need, I’m here. Life is meant to be done together, just reach out.

This post comes from my upcoming book, Modern CTO. Pre-register for a copy here.

Joel Beasley

Joel Beasley founded the Modern CTO Podcast in 2017 while writing his book, the Modern CTO book, with the goal of interviewing CTOs and sharing their experiences with others in the tech community.

Joel’s conversational style and insightful questions quickly gained traction, attracting high-profile guests such as Microsoft’s CTO, Kevin Scott, and T-Mobile’s CIO, Cody Stanford. With each episode, the podcast’s popularity continued to grow, and soon, Joel found himself with a waiting list of future guests.

Today, the Modern CTO Podcast has become the number one leadership and tech podcast in the world, with over 150k active listeners, including CTOs, lead developers, and rising tech leaders. Joel’s commitment to creating a conversational atmosphere for his guests to share their experiences has inspired a new generation of leaders and innovators.

As the success of the podcast grew, Joel founded ProSeries Media, a podcast production company that helps companies worldwide create their own podcasts. With a team of producers, content creators, and podcast bookers, ProSeries Media produces over ten shows, providing a platform for companies to connect with their audience and share their expertise.

Through his work on the Modern CTO Podcast and ProSeries Media, Joel Beasley has become a respected voice in the tech industry, inspiring others to share their knowledge and insights with the wider community. His passion for creating engaging content that informs, inspires, and entertains has made him a sought-after speaker and advisor on all things tech.

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