Ep.106 It’s Hard To Be The Naysayer As CTO

By Published On: February 18, 2021Categories: Blog, Podcasts, The CTO Studio

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About The Speaker:

Casey Kleindienst is an expert at Supply Chain Management and current serves as a Management Professor @ Cal State Fullerton

Episode Resources:

Check Casey out on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ckleindie…

Episode Transcription:

Nickolai: [00:00:09] Hello, hello, thank you again for joining me in the CTO studio, I am your host, Nickolai Walker. We are continuing our conversation with Casey Kleindienst, who is the director of Supply Chain Management. Now, I want to toss this question over to Etienne, actually, as opposed to Casey to kind of start off this interview. My question is, since we spoke briefly about contentious conversations in the last episode, can you expound on this, please? Can the CTO actually be the naysayer or the no guy?

Etienne: [00:00:37] Yeah, this just brings me back to the contentious conversation. That is it’s usually contentious because the CTO has to tell the CEO, no, it’s not that simple. It’s not just an upgrade project. It is, “I know you made a million dollars of revenues off of this approach. And now you want to upgrade the process so that the quality increases or there are more features. No, it’s not the same project. You’re talking about an increase in complexity that doesn’t just get solved by doubling your dev team.” That conversation is damn hard and it’s not fun because you have to walk in and say to the CEO, sorry, I hate to be that person, but it’s not going to be what you think you hired me for. Its actually multiply that by five or six. That’s that’s how long this is going to take or that’s how much harder this is going to be, or that’s how much more money this is going to take.

Casey: [00:01:51] Wouldn’t a thinking CEO say, “this product has more value and so it’s going to have a positive impact on the business?

Etienne: [00:02:01] Well, I think one out of 100 CEOs might see it that way. 99 of them are going to say. this is technology it supposed to be? I’ve been conditioned to think that this is easier. This is a commodity. This is if I spend X dollars, I should be getting Y out of this. That’s the problem is, is that there’s this expectation that things are just going to work. And so the first thing I see founders say is I want to double my engineering team. I just have to throw more bodies at this, which now gets us into the mythical man month or mythical man hour situation. I like to tell people what any developer can do in one hour, two developers can do in two hours, you need to be OK with being just the the just the perceived baddie. Now, we both know that you’re saving the company from doom if if I’m doing my job right as a CTO, and then that goes both ways, I have to be able to be open to being stretched.  I often say, my CEOs have brought the best out in me because I’ve often said, no, this can’t be done, and then I try it and then, yes, it can be done. So there’s that dichotomy as well. So, I’m saying it’s not great to have to resist the CEOs or the stakeholders push for time and delivery when the complexity makes it almost impossible to give you that time.

Casey: [00:03:42] So where did I get the idea that that’s possible if you or any CTO has never been able to demonstrate it and when he quotes a time, that’s how long it takes. Where is the CEO coming up with what the standard is?

Etienne: [00:03:59] That’s why I think time is the only truth in the universe. Time is the only thing that we know we’re going to have. And then you build this whole cost structure on top of it. Because that’s the only thing that I can use to predict. I know that tomorrow is going to be Thursday. I know nothing in the universe can stop that unless the universe stops it by destroying the planet. So that’s the only 100 percent predictor, right? So now I build cost structure on it where I say, OK, I’m going to pay you 50 bucks an hour to work for me, because I know that if you work eight hours, I owe you 400 dollars. So that’s perfect. But now, how long is it going to take to get things done, because I need to know how much I’m going to pay you.. because I need to build budgets..because I need to earn revenues.

Casey: [00:05:01] Is there a measurable return on investment when the product is finished?

Casey: [00:05:14] Is it internal operating systems or is it a product you’re selling? Because if there’s an ROI then you argue from the ROI not just the cost of the resource or the time, because time is money. If time is an issue, start earlier.

Etienne: [00:05:43] But for instance, let’s say I’m going to take a long trip. I’m going to drive from the West Coast to the East Coast. And then my wife says to me, well, how long is it going to take for us to get ready to go? I’m like, wow, I can go now. Let’s just get in the car right now. OK, well, now we didn’t pack.  She’s like, no, hang on, hang on, hang on. We need to pack. We need to call a few people. OK, it’s going to take about a day for us to prepare to go. Great. We jump in the car after a day and off we go. We drive. Well, I didn’t take the time to ask. Well, do I need to look at my tires? Do I need to look at a couple maintenance issues on my vehicle, you know? So now what’s the ROI on the investment? Actually, you know what? It’s going to take a week before we can go because I need to take my vehicle to the shop to get it checked out. So the ROI of me getting the vehicle checked out, is that a possible blow out didn’t happen on the drive? So it’s almost impossible to calculate because it never happened, the reverse ROI of not making the investment is very easy to calculate because we had a blowout. Thankfully, we survived it. But now we spend five, $5000 on delays and hotels and new vehicle, blah, blah, blah. So that’s an easy one to calculate.

Nickolai: [00:07:19] Well, it sounds to me almost like you’re writing maintenance code, is that right?

Etienne: [00:07:23] Well, so there’s a there’s this concept called technical debt which CTO’s are always having to budget for,ut CEOs rarely understand. In its simplest form, and I’m talking about start ups and not about the large enterprise, you know, which has delicious buffers for this. But you go from saying, hey, I’m going to deliver this business value to you after this sprint, after every sprint to saying, hey, you’re going to hear crickets from us for a month, you’re going to be paying. But you’re not going to see tangible. Fixes, but we would have gone and taken our vehicle for a full inspection and upgraded all the different parts that were necessary so that in case, whether it’s security scale, code base, we are protected against those.

Nickolai: [00:08:19] So then it begs the question, when do you reveal that to the CEO?

Casey: [00:08:25] Those are unpredictable. Right? But you have to do what the organization might view as unproductive work to keep the system running. Then you get to you get to reveal that in their annual budget.

Etienne: [00:08:49] So I think that’s where the expertise comes in – the expertise of the CTO, the experience of software development team.  I think what I’m trying to land here is just that there is a incessant desire from stakeholder’s founder CEOs who started the company with their own raised money or their own piggy banks to CTO types or the development teams, how long it’s going to take to get something done so they can do their projected cost and that they can understand when they’re going to get their ROI’s. But you’re dealing with building blocks that are just not bricks and cement, it’s. We’re still shaping the bricks and we’re still deciding what to make the bricks out of. So that’s just sad for me in a way, and it just makes, I think, the CTO’s job that much harder, especially if you have a CTO, which the most of them have just sort of worked their way up through the ranks. Of being software developers who were all too happy to close out tickets, build, build, build, do take the time to get things done to now being on the other side of now, I’ve got a fight with my management because they want it done fast and we can only get it done slower.

Casey: [00:10:24] Oh yeah, we had now a new set of skills are going to have to come into play that weren’t necessary in, you know, in the previous position or previous role, like a salesman, a super salesman becoming an awful sales manager, completely different requirements. How do you how do you know if you’re saying I need a businessman know, as a CTO, I need a businessman, I need someone that understands all the language and and, you know, and can’t sell cars.

Etienne: [00:11:02] I sometimes think that the the CTO is really a person who is actually just an entrepreneur who loves and has built technology. So there’s that sales and marketing component because you have to sell ideas, you have to communicate, you have to show what is possible. You have to say, hey, it’s it’s going to suck for the next month or two. But you know what? This is what we’re chasing and this is where this is. Why keep investing. I’m assuming the great entrepreneurs are doing this all the time to their investors. Right? Give give us this 50 million dollars, because this is how we’re changing the world. And and with CTO’s, it’s the same thing you you have to be able to make. You’ve got to be able to show the vision. You have to be able to show the sacrifice that’s going to that’s going to be made to. T