Ep.137 The Role of the CTO has shifted beyond just Technology

By Published On: August 31, 2021Categories: Blog, Podcasts, The CTO Studio

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About The Speaker:

Brant Cooper is the author of Lean Entrepreneur And Disruption Proof.

Episode Resources:

Our 7CTOs peer groups are digging deeper into this content and sharing their challenges around the role of CTO.  If you are looking for more or to continue the conversation

    Join us by visiting www.7ctos.com/call

Episode Transcription:

Nickolai Walker: [00:00:15] Hello. Hello. Welcome back to the studio. I, of course, am your host, Nikolai Walker, on the mic and in your ear with the content you want and the content you need. We are joined today by Brant Cooper, who is the author of Lean Entrepreneur and today we’re in the middle of a conversation talking about competitive advantage and the C-suite and how the role of the CTO has shifted beyond just technology. So I’m going to hand this right on over to Etienne because again, we are in the middle of the conversation. I don’t want you to miss a thing so Etienne, please take it over.


Etienne de Bruin: [00:00:50] We’ve had several conversations lately and one thing that I want to really focus on today with you is that, at 7CTOs, we’re talking a lot about how the CTO shields their organization. So we’ve talked about shielding through intellectual property. And not just patenting and copywriting and trade secrets, but to really think about the work we do. And the intellectual property that comes with that.  Now we’ve done that, we are talking about compliance and risk management, so a lot of sexy topics. We’re also talking about security assessments and compliance next month, but one thing that has been a prevailing theme for me is how optimizing process being transparent about your security assessments and your ISO or SOC2 compliance or SOC2 reports and audits. That all presents your organization with a competitive advantage and one of our themes soon is going to be, how does the seat, what is the role that the CTO plays in moving the competitive advantage forward for the organization, and I wanted to just dig in with you on that topic and just take it where it goes. One one I realize is there’s competitive advantage through the way we address the market and the way we come up with products and innovation and all the work that goes into that through, you know, the lean, lean thinking and all that, but there’s also how we tool and help our own people inside the organization to think about our about. You know, how we do things and that in and of itself starts positioning potentially more innovation, more thinking, and that, you know, you could draw from this the far corners of your company for great ideas. So a bit of a long winded setup, but I now we’re going to cover all kinds of ground here, but that’s where I’m coming from and that’s why I want to talk to you and get your unfiltered thoughts.


Brant Cooper: [00:03:27] Yeah. Well, I mean, yeah, brings up all sorts of ideas. I mean, one of the things I always appreciated about you Etienne and 7CTOs is pushing the boundary of what it means to be a CTO. In other words, the tendency is, especially the way we even start with the CTO conversation at a very early startup level, right? Like the CEO, they’re always like, o well, I need to find a CTO. And the proper question, you know, at that point is “really?” Do you do you need a software engineer to develop product or do you need a CTO? And the conversation literally starts that early. But even then, in more mature organizations is what does it mean to be a CTO? And is it really about the technology and managing just the technology side of the house and in security and some of these other things that you mentioned? How much does the CTO need to get involved with business strategy and with understanding the business side and understanding what are the obstacles for the company achieving its goals and its objectives? And so I think that in in modern business management, we sort of allow the chief officers of these different groups to limit their role to just being responsible for that group. And then it’s sort of the CEO’s role to bring all of those components together. And I think that’s wrong. I think that in the digital age, what we really need is sort of and everybody is going to hate that I use this word. But the C-suite needs to be its own agile team and not based upon hierarchy. But leadership comes from when the topic turns to something that that individual chief officer is the leader of. And so it’s like a special forces team.


Brant Cooper: [00:05:29] You’re going off on a mission and whoever’s in charge of a particular aspect of the mission is the leader during that moment. And really, I think the C-suite needs to be the same sort of thing where the mission is, whatever the objectives are of the corporation. And so the CTO gets to weigh in on marketing and business and legal and human resources. And the chief marketing officer gets to weigh in on things that have to do with technology to a certain degree. And I think that’s difficult for people. But I think that we need to we need to look at how we structure our companies, our organizations and our roles, and even the C-suite needs to be more agile. And I think fundamentally the change is that. These days we pretty much know we can build stuff. The biggest risk to companies is not intellectual property, certainly security is up there but it’s not really technology. And so I think, during the last half of the 20th century and even the first couple of decades of the 21st century technology, was still sort of at the core. If we build it, we think that we’re going to be able to market and sell it. I don’t think that’s the biggest fundamental risk to businesses now. I think it’s really more on the marketing and sales side. Should we build it rather than can we build it? And that shift in itself means that I think that the role of the CTO has to shift a little bit as well, and they can no longer be concerned, primarily with the operating processes of their group. They need to be in the strategic discussions of where the business is going.


Etienne de Bruin: [00:07:17] I love that because it always irks me a little bit when people try to compare product versus engineering as the what needs to be built versus the how it gets built. And while I guess, at a truly technical level, that’s probably true-ish. I think what we’re both agreeing and talking about is the bleed into all these areas, especially the higher up you go, the more strategic you are, that you you want to be a part of all those conversations. I often think it’s not really coming into those conversations as the expert in your domain, but I think that just gets you into the conversation. The ensuing participation and collaboration that then happens is ,like you said, that agility in the C-suite. The way that those conversations are facilitated and how they happen, it’s almost functionally irrelevant where you come from. I mean, it’s good and you’re there because you’re smart and experienced in a certain field, but what happens next behind those closed doors or wide open doors or fishbowl doors is different. There’s a different level of discourse needed. And that’s where it’s not like, oh, well, we’ll just tell the engineers what needs to be built. They’ll decide how it gets built. And so that’s where I want the CTO to be a lot more involved in saying, “Hey company, there are these three or four or five or 10 or 15 or 50 things that we can focus on to help leverage our competitiveness.”


Brant Cooper: [00:09:22] Yeah, I think that’s right. I mean, like you said, you hire and promote smart people. And so the strongest CTO is the one with the experience and the knowledge and has proven her chops in the engineering field. But your experience in the business world and in managing people and all of these other elements that go into being a leader, that’s what gets you into the into the C-suite, right? And so once you’re there, you can’t be pigeonholed back into where you came from. And what I find interesting is, you know, one of the companies that I is one of the leaders I think in really rethinking their organization is ING, the bank in Europe that’s headquartered in the Netherlands. And you often see that they move people around inside the C-suite and inside of business units in order to get that broad experience. And so you might be the CFO and then you’re the CIO and then your chief innovation officer and then you’re the CEO of the ING in Spain. And so I think it goes to what you’re saying that once you have sort of the level of expertise within a domain that gets you into that level where you actually then live at that level kind of doesn’t kind of doesn’t matter.


Brant Cooper: [00:10:57] And you actually can move people around because, if they were to become CEO, the CEO does need to know a little bit about all of those functions. And so I think, you know, another one of the topics that you and I have talked quite a bit about is really the experience that comes from the engineering side that comes from the CTO side with things like agile or agility or                                   what I say is that team is the new unit of work and how we can organize and structure the way we do work differently. You know, the group that has the most experience in doing that is the CTO and the engineering side. And there’s so much more than just the technical ability that they can bring to the rest of the company because of that experience. And I just fundamentally believe that at some level, and I’m a little bit, you know, nervous about using the word agile because I think that there’s a lot of pushback on some of that now, but at least in terms of quote unquote agility, the whole company needs the positive aspects of that. And if I’m inside of a company, where am I going to turn? Well I’m going to turn to my CTO.


Etienne de Bruin: [00:12:25] Yeah and agile being really just responding to change and to have those chops at every level in every aspect of the company is what is needed in this day and age.


Nickolai Walker: [00:12:40] Thank you again for joining us here in the CTO studio and thank you to Brant Cooper, who is a great many things. He is an author of Lean Entrepreneur, and he’s going to be talking to us over the next few weeks about competitive advantage. As a point of reference for our listeners, our 7CTOs peer groups are digging deeper and deeper into content like this, the content you want, the content you need, and they’re sharing their challenges around the role of CTO. So if you’re looking for more or to continue this conversation, please join us by visiting 7CTOs.com/call. Now we will see you next week with another episode with Mr. Cooper and also go check out his book Disruption Proof, which is available on Amazon.com. See you next week!

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