A day in the life of a CTO

04Mar17

I’ve been working as a CTO in some shape or form for almost 8 years now. Many people tell me that they want to be a CTO, and then moments later ask what’s involved.

Wednesday wasn’t a typical day – they’re (thankfully) not all that full on, but it serves as a good example of the cross section of CTO activities.

An early start

A colleague’s in town from New York, and wants to catch up over breakfast. Since both of us have early meetings it means an even earlier breakfast, so my alarm is set for 0510 so that I can make the 0551 train up to London. Thankfully I get to the station early enough to get the 0547, as the train I’d planned to get is cancelled.

On the way in I do my usual ‘daily download’ on Feedly and Twitter to keep up with what’s going on in the industry. The previous evening’s AWS S3 outage dominates things.

I get to the breakfast venue with time to spare, which gives me the chance to finish off some stuff I was doing with the Serverless Framework that wasn’t working due to the S3 problems. After an excellent Eggs Benedict and a nice cup of tea (my usual morning green and earl grey) it’s time to head off to the next event.

Windows 10 round table

The marketing team have asked me to chair a round table event on Windows 10 migration. We have the top man in the region from Microsoft, the technical lead from our workplace offering group, and a good selection of customers from a variety of industries. My role is to kick off the discussion, and make sure it keeps moving along (and that we don’t leave people out). The conversation is lively, everybody gets a chance to dig into their particular challenges, and the time passes very quickly.

When I first met software defined networking (SDN) inventor Martin Cassado he asked me ‘what sort of CTO are you?’, and my answer was ‘a marketing CTO’ to which he replied ‘that’s the right sort’. I only spend a fraction of my time on marketing, but projecting technical leadership into the marketplace is super important.

As the customers disperse I have a quick debrief with the marketing lead, and he seems happy that we have some strong follow ups to pursue.

A brief pause in the action

It’s 11am and I don’t have anything in my calendar until 1245. I jump on the tube to the office and begin catching up on emails. By the time I get to my desk after a quick catch up with my assistant it’s almost lunch time, and I see a tweet for The Poutinerie that they’re not far away so I head over to them in the hope that I’ll beat the lunchtime rush.

My (very tasty) poutine is almost finished by the time I make it back to the cafe in the office, and I bump into a colleague who tells me he’s leaving the firm in a few days time. It’s a shame – somebody that I like and respect will be working for the competition in a few weeks time, but it’s also an inevitable consequence of the constant change in our industry. While we’re chatting I spot somebody else that I want to catch up with, and once we’re done I do a lap of the office to find which desk she’s at. After some general chit chat about what’s going on I give her a quick demo of Katacoda, which I’m planning on using for infrastructure as code training.

There’s just about time for a quick triage of my inbox before I head out for the next thing. I spot a text from a friend that will need to wait for now.

The bid review

Next up I’m joining one of bid teams for the review meeting with the customer. It’s an account that I’ve been involved with for some time, so I’ve got to know many of the players on both sides of the table. They spent the whole of the preceding day in rehearsals, which included a few hours of my time. Despite all the preparation we go off track with the opening section taking much longer than planned, and everything after that is rushed as we try to make up time.

The meeting seems to go well though, and we leave with everybody feeling pretty positive that it went well. Out of 2.5 hours of scheduled time I spoke for maybe 20 minutes, but that’s not really the point – just by having me there we’re showing our commitment.

I’m not off the hook yet though, it’s back to the office for a debrief. By the time we’re done with that it’s 5pm and people are heading home for the day.

Joining the dots

I finally get to reply to the text I’d received after lunch. I’d introduced our cloud general manager to a consultancy company specialising in virtualisation and cloud, and it turns out that we’ve taken a 20% stake in their company. Their office is on the way to where I need to be next, so I quickly shed the suit I’ve been wearing in favour of jeans and T-shirt for the evening activities, and head over for a quick celebratory drink (and the chance to meet whoever’s still around at 5.30).

We talk a little about the opportunities to work together, but as they’re getting in the second round I realise that I’m not going to be able to stay. I finish my pint, make my apologies and head off to the next thing.

Serverless Meetup

Serverless is one of the hottest trends in IT at the moment, and despite the fact that I have very little experience in using it myself I’ve been asked to do a talk on operational considerations (because despite the hype Serverless doesn’t mean No Ops). My talk is largely based on the Serverless Operations is Not a Solved Problem piece I did for InfoQ from last year’s Serverlessconf London. Before we get started I bump into some of the usual suspects from the leading edge of London’s tech scene, but there are plenty of new faces. After my talk I get into some great discussions with people I hadn’t met before, which is the whole point of such events, but sadly the pizza is gone before I get anywhere near it. The other two talks are very illuminating in terms of what can be done with serverless and some of the challenges, so combined with the various discussions it’s a very educational event.

Sadly I don’t have time to carry on the conversation in the pub. I want to be home before everybody goes to bed, so I head for the 2130 train home, grabbing a spicy mini chirashi from the Wasabi in the station. The journey home gives me time to watch an episode of a TV series (that my wife doesn’t like) on one screen whilst I catch up on emails and Twitter on another.

I get through the door at home just as the news is turning to the weather. At least the next day isn’t such an early start.

Conclusion

My company is organised along the lines of ‘build, sell, deliver’, and I often describe my job as a three legged stool with activities aligned with each. This particular day was more ‘sell’ biased, but that perhaps highlights the difference between a CTO role and a senior architect – the need to get out and be the public face of the organisation (with people who expect a technical answer to their questions).

I’m glad that not every day is so full (and so long) – that would be too exhausting; but this particular day was quite fun and rewarding – and worth writing about.



One Response to “A day in the life of a CTO”

  1. 1 Lisa Braun

    Great post, Chris. Really gives a concrete feel for your CTO role, and I like how you tied it together at the end to build-sell-deliver.


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