CTO Authority versus CTO Leadership, with Michael Bastos
On this episode of CTO Studio, we talk extensively about CTO authority versus CTO leadership with Michael Bastos. Michael was the CTO of a San Diego company called LocalStack before moving to Austin, Texas to run the benefits API team for the VA’s web site.
Having been in positions of leadership and authority in the civilian world and in the military, Michael joins us to talk about the differences and similarities in each. We also dig into the Austin tech scene and what it’s like to work for two CTOs in his current role. Join us for those topics and much more on today’s CTO Studio.
In this episode, you’ll hear:
- When do you need to have uncomfortable conversations about leadership and authority?
- What two books changed his entire career path?
- How did he transition from being a CTO to working under another CTO?
- Why negotiation is very much a part of leadership.
- Do leadership and authority both require high risks for high rewards?
- And so much more!
My first question is about the Austin tech scene – what is it like these days? He says it is different, not from a negative perspective. In San Diego he has watched the tech scene grow and he knew the people who worked hard to make it what it is today. It became one person helping another person, everyone lifting each other up.
But Austin has a lot of big, established companies already so it’s harder to have that same close-knit feeling to others in the tech scene. It’s much harder to get that same feeling because there are established businesses plus others coming in from San Francisco.
There are differences among technology leaders in Austin too, some are doing old things and others are doing new. The old tech is still valid and still enterprising, but you also have new tech showing up like GraphQL. And those two worlds don’t mix all that often.
Next we talk about his transition from being a CTO of local San Diego company and then he moved to Austin to take a position as the Head of Engineering for a real estate startup. Now he is in a role with a company that is building VA.gov’s API.
Having been a CTO, he now works for another CTO in a contracting role and is running the Benefits API team for develooper.va.gov. They are building out VA’s entire external API infrastructure for VA’s new external system. Among other things, it allows outsider contributors to come in and build applications for veterans and the like. As a veteran himself, he especially likes being involved in a project like this one.
What are some of the main apps that he sees being built or is it too early to tell? They have everything built already in terms of infrastructure. Originally the project started out as Vets.gov and then it did so well over time that they basically took over the VA.gov site. It’s a pretty well established project now, they have full CI and deployments. It is mostly Rails-based and for the most part everything they do is public.
Also on today’s CTO studio, we talk about how he came to be in the Marine Corps after having been born in Brazil. His dad called his bluff and said Michael would be moving out when he turned 18, whether he was in college or not. So Michael went out and visited a bunch of recruiters, including a recruiter from the Marine Corps.
But Michael’s dad was bluffing – Michael’s older brother moved back in as soon as he left! He laughs about it now and says it was the best bluff in the sense that his dad probably wouldn’t have kicked him out, but it gave Michael the push to get out into the world.
Which leads us to talk about our main topic: authority versus leadership as a CTO. Having been in the Marine Corps, he knows firsthand about authority so I wanted to talk about the issue of authority versus leadership. I asked him to explain the challenges of authority that are inherent with being a CTO.
Michael breaks it down by sharing something he was taught in the Marine Corps about Marine Corps leadership. Authority and leadership are two very different things. Most people think they are one and the same. Authority is granted, it is given and is not necessarily something you can take. Leadership is the actions people have. You can have authority without having any leadership. And you can have leadership without having any authority.
Leadership is how to treat people. The perfect concept of leadership and authority is when those two positions merge. When you have somebody that is both a leader and is willing to accept those responsibilities and that role, they are the person people go to. Developers are excited to work with these types of people whether they are CTOs or the head of engineers or another similar role.
He’s been in both scenarios: he’s been the guy who had to learn the leadership side because he was given authority without understanding anything about leadership, and he’s also been the leader with zero authority but had people come to him because he could answer their questions or help them with their problems.
It’s beneficial to understand each of these ideas and to also understand where you are at: are you a leader without authority or do you have authority and need to develop leadership? What are some symptoms that you are in the first scenario?
Michael answers this question as well as some great insights and wisdom on negotiating. Tune in to hear the details on today’s CTO Studio with Michael Bastos.
Getting to Yes, by Roger Fisher, William Ury and Bruce Patton
Getting Past No, by William Ury
Pitching Anything, by Oren Klaff
https://github.com/department-of-veterans-affairs GitHub for VA
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