4 Steps To Gain and Solidify Your Executive Role As CTO in the C-Suite

By | Executive, Leadership

I have come across so many CTOs who have lost their executive decision-making power in the C-Suite.   Or even worse, they never had it to begin with.  This often happens as a result of CEOs not fully understanding the role of the CTO, but it could also happen because of repeated failures to deliver on promises made.  Eventually, this leads to a lack of trust, diminished responsibilities, and overall job dissatisfaction.

If you find yourself in this situation, there is great news!  You stand before a perfect opportunity to break through the stereotypes often associated with the role of CTO.  The framework I’ll discuss with you not only helps with how you see yourself but also educates your C-Suite on the role of the CTO in your organization.

Having served as CTO for multiple organizations, I have fallen into the trap of taking a back seat when things didn’t go my way in the executive sync-ups and I can honestly say that the following framework had a radical impact on my results as CTO.

The CTO Authority Ramp

1. Frame

Those who know me know that I am a huge fan of Oren Klaff’s “Pitch Anything”.  In the book, he talks about frame control.  Frame control is giving someone else the lens to see what you see.  The first step in the CTO Authority Ramp is to take control of the frame.  If you don’t control the perspective, you’ll end up debating, contending and even arguing against a point of view that will leave you unfulfilled and feel unheard.  Here are a few ways to take back control of the frame:

  • Don’t react. If you’re starting sentences with “Yes, but..”, “It depends…”, you’re in reaction mode.
  • Don’t commit. If you’re committing to anything as a reaction, you’re in trouble.
  • Don’t agree. There’s nothing wrong with disagreeing even if you can’t articulate the exact reason why in the moment.

Instead, inform the alpha dog that you will carefully consider their comments and get back to them.

2. Focus

There is a reason “retrospectives” have their place at the end of a sprint in the agile software development processes.  It is because they are not productive before, or during the sprint.  In the same way, it is almost never a good idea to focus on the past, or on “what got us here” in your executive sync-ups.  If you find yourself explaining and re-explaining how we got into a situation, you’re wasting your breath (and losing the frame).  Keep your focus on the current reality and the steps needed to advance in order to achieve maximum results.

3. Forecast

Always be forecasting.  The absolute best way to ramp up your authority is to demonstrate that you are firmly rooted in the present, focussed on the future and pursuing attainable results.  I highly recommend a 1/1/1 approach:

  • 1 month. What should we focus on in the next month?  This is a very important unit of measure because payroll is tied to it.
  • 1 quarter. Most companies pick a strategy for the year.  Breaking it down into quarters is a great way for people to understand progress against the overall strategy.  It is also easier for people to tactically visualize 3 months out into the future.
  • 1 year.  As CTO you’re always aligning your technology with future goals.  Constantly demonstrate that you have an eye for the future, securing your company’s technological viability.

Another tip for your forecasting exercise is to stay away from using many many words in a document with many many bullet points and sub-bullet points.  Instead, use a presentation format with simple shapes like a circle, some squares, and many many colors.

4. Fund

And now for the most important step in establishing your authority in the executive suite: bet on yourself.  Put your money where your mouth is.  Be willing to suffer the consequences if you don’t hit your targets.  If you’re blaming anything or anybody but yourself, you’re playing the victim card and perpetuating the back seat stereotype.

Are you ready?

You may say that you are too introverted to match your C-Suite using the CTO Authority Ramp, or that you do not have enough information to go build a forecast, not to mention backing it.  But here is my encouragement to you, if you do this, you stand to gain a lot more leadership clout from your team.  The potential for higher reward skyrockets.  Don’t shy away from doing this and if you don’t have access to numbers, budgets or planning, go with your best guestimates.


Here’s how you’ll know that you’re ramping up your authority in the C-Suite: you’ll be consulted more frequently, if not incessantly in strategic decision making.  You’ll be awesome.  Enjoy 🙂

Please send me feedback on how this framework has helped you and as always, I would love to help you any way I can.

Keeping Us Connected

By | Female CTOs

At 7CTOs, we obviously think connecting people is powerful. Technologists often face the stigma of being solitary and bad at being around other humans. However, we know that CTOs don’t work by themselves. Their role is to lead and connect a team.

It’s been about a month since San Diego hosted Startup Week #SDSW. Our CTO, Etienne De Bruin was a moderator of one of the many panels called “Technology Hot or Not?.” It was a smash it. To let everyone know we were going to be hosting a panel, we used Meetup.com.

Yvette Pasqua is the CTO behind the company that makes it possible for people to have real life friends in the era of social media. She’s the CTO at Meetup.com a popular website that helps people with similar interests to connect. You’ve probably been to a group or led one either tech related or about another interest.

Meetup uses social media to help connect those who actually want to be social. Here in San Diego, there are lots of transplants, including our CEO. However, there are so many cool people in San Diego and cool things to do, it’s only fair for all of these transplants to want to meet one another and enjoy this fabulous city.

As CTO of Meetup, she is tasked with leading her team in continuing excellent customer user-experience.

Pasqua has a bachelor’s in biological basis of behavior from University of Pennsylvania, where she was also was pre-med. While in college she worked as a networking specialist at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center where she worked on internet communications software and hardware.

Thank you Yvette for keeping us connected!


Where You Can Be Different

By | Female CTOs

It’s July. It’s hot. The State of California is on fire, and climate is changing. You want to turn on your air conditioning and just have one place of comfort, your home, but that dreaded energy bill.

Yoky Matsuoka, our featured CTO of the week, leads the technology at Nest, which has made smart thermostats since 2011. If you aren’t familiar with Nest; it’s a thermostat that learns to program itself based on habits and preferences and ultimately saves energy and therefore money on your electric bill.

Matsuoka was named one of 12 Women CTOs to Watch in 2017 by Hackbright Academy. Before becoming CTO, she was the VP of Technology at Nest Labs from 2010 to 2015. That means she was there when the Nest thermostat launched. She left Nest for a brief time to work at Quanttus and Apple. Maybe you’d even say she flew the nest and is now back, depending on whether you like bad jokes.

Before coming to Nest, she served as Head of Innovation at Google and served as a professor at University of Washington and Carnegie Mellon University. Matsuoka holds a Ph.D. and a master’s in electrical engineering and computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and a bachelor’s in electrical engineering and computer science from University of California, Berkeley. She also completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University in the Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences in 2000.

Originally from Japan, Matsuoka was quoted in the  stating, “There is no way I ever could have succeeded in Japan. People there told me, ‘you’ll never fit in, you’re too weird.’ I’ve had universities there tell me, ‘don’t come back.’ It’s difficult for a girl growing up there because you can’t know what is possible. But as soon as I got here [to the United States], I felt something – that here I could be different.”

Thank you Yoky for not giving up in your search for a place where you can be different.

CTO or CIO, what’s the diff?

By | Female CTOs

Through our CTO Google alert there is often news included about who has been appointed as the Chief Information Officer (CIO) of some organization. As savvy CTOs reading this blog you know your role and responsibilities as a CTO, and maybe you work with a CIO as well, but what is the difference and is there overlap?

Tech Republic gives the following breakdown between these two IT leadership roles

Chief Information Officer

  • Serves as the company’s top technology infrastructure manager
  • Runs the organization’s internal IT operations
  • Works to streamline business processes with technology
  • Focuses on internal customers (users and business units)
  • Collaborates and manages vendors that supply infrastructure solutions
  • Aligns the company’s IT infrastructure with business priorities
  • Developers strategies to increase the company’s bottom line (profitability)
  • Has to be a skilled and organized manager to be successful

Chief Technology Officer

  • Serves as the company’s top technology architect
  • Runs the organization’s engineering group
  • Uses technology to enhance the company’s product offerings
  • Focuses on external customers (buyers)
  • Collaborates and manages vendors that supply solutions to enhance the company’s product(s)
  • Aligns the company’s product architecture with business priorities
  • Develops strategies to increase the company’s top line (revenue)
  • Has to be a creative and innovative technologist to be successful

However, the article mentions this is the break down at larger companies, so maybe your role isn’t as defined as a CTO in smaller or startup companies.

This question of semantics came to mind in looking through news updates of female CTOs for this blog series. Bank of New York Mellon Corp. has named Bridget Engle Chief Information Officer and Senior Executive Vice President. The press release states, “In the new role, Engle leads the company’s Client Technology Solutions group, which provides critical technology platforms and applications.”

As we like to highlight female technologists who are killing it, we would like to congratulate Bridget in her new role and use this as a chance to explore what it means to be a tech leader. We’d love to hear from our members and supporters about how the CIO and CTO role work together and how they can learn from one another to build stronger organizations.

What’s Your Style

By | Female CTOs

Pop culture has developed the image of the tech world wardrobe as the infamous hoodie and jeans wearing engineer. Based on T.V., you would think that no one ever puts on a tie or wears high heels. We also have in mind that engineers are too busy to do anything other than focus on their project, much less think about clothing. For goodness sake they can’t even be bothered to eat food anymore.

It’s somewhat surprising that the larger tech companies that provides so much for workers in-house don’t provide a clothing store inside. There are other option though. Cathy Polinsky is the CTO of Stitch Fix, an e-commerce company that sends clothes directly to you. This year, she was identified by Hackbright University as the 2nd of 12 Women CTOs to watch.

Prior to joining the Stitch Fix Team she was the senior vice president of engineering and enterprise search at Salesforce, and she began her career in software development at Amazon in 1999. She holds a B.A. in computer science from Swarthmore College, a private liberal arts college in Pennsylvania.

In a male dominated work culture, female engineers and technology professionals, may want to try to blend in wearing hoodies and jeans, which is totally fine if that is their personal style preference. But, Cathy did an interview on a Stitch Fix blog about how she has enjoyed having more of a wardrobe style now that she has grown more confident in her career.

While this is not a product endorsement, I can attest to the ease and excellent user experience I’ve had with Stitch Fix. Though, the last time I placed an order was before Cathy came on board. I made an order for myself as a birthday gift as well as it being part of a birthday gift for a friend who loves the service. She got a credit for turning me into a customer. Unlike my friend, however, I enjoy going to the store and shopping, whereas my friend likes to have clothes sent to her. She is also the mother of a toddler, so that makes perfect sense.

Whether we want to admit it, clothing is significant in the professional world. The laid back style of the hoodie and jeans is symbolic of an industry just like the suit once was.

Thank you Cathy for reminding us that we can all have style.

You can follow Cathy on Twitter: @cathy_polinsky

I Learned It In School

By | Female CTOs

If tech is supposed to make the world a better place, then it should take a leading role in the education of our children. It hasn’t been that long since the days when many children were first introduced to a personal computer in their schools. The classroom was the forefront of technology, but as tech innovations exploded, the education world couldn’t always keep up.

Melissa Dodd is the CTO of San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) where she is leading the technology projects throughout the district. According to a recent article in EdSccop, she has been part of the district moving over to the cloud over the last few years. All of the district’s educators and staff are on a unified communications platform through Google, so now she ensures that what they implement works with this system. She says it will help with managing human capital. As the CTO of a massive school district, there are many different projects and IT needs that come along all at once.

Melissa has worked in education for more than 15 years; she started her career in education at Tufts University as the Educational Technology Administrator. She is a champion of educating people about the importance of technology in education, and she speaks publicly on the issue throughout the country. She is considered an expert in edtech. Before she came to SFUSD, she worked in the Boston Public Schools as Chief of Staff and Chief Information Officer.

Melissa doesn’t have a specifically technical education, but that hasn’t made a difference in her ability to create change in the education system at the IT level. She has a B.S. in human development and family studies from Cornell University and a Masters of Education from Harvard University Graduate School of Education.

Thank you Melissa for reminding us about the importance of the public school system.

You can follow Melissa on Twitter at @MelissaPDodd

This new CTO is big name in telecom

By | Female CTOs

Toronto’s Sigma Systems, a catalog-driven BSS OSS software giant, has someone new leading their technology product portfolio. Last week, the company announced Catherine Michel, their former Chief Strategy Officer, would take the position of Chief Technology Officer.

There is no shortage of responsibilities for her in this role: she will be overseeing the entire product portfolio strategy and roadmap; acting as the technological decision-maker and represent the company in speaking and outreach engagements throughout the globe to boot.

Catherine has been with Sigma Systems since 2013, and prior to that, she was a co-founder and CTO of Tribold, also a telecommunications catalog-driven software company. There, she was the principal architect of the company’s products and solutions portfolio. Tribold was acquired by Sigma Systems in 2013.

While at Tribold, she was part of forming a strategic solution partnership with Microsoft, and they were awarded Industry Solutions Partner of the year.

Catherine started her career as a senior executive in Accenture’s Communications and High Tech practice, where she was responsible for business strategy of B/OSS solutions. She holds a B.A. in finance from The University of Michigan

She’s been named as one of the top most powerful people in the telecoms industry by Global Telecoms Business.

We love to see more women joining the CTO squad, and we just want to congratulate Catherine on her career move.

Almost 30%

By | Uncategorized

The home has long been a symbol for women. It was their domain, and that may still, somewhat, be the case for Bridget Frey whose domain is the engineering team of Redfin “the next-generation real estate broker.”

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