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Managing as a CTO and as Product Manager, with Jaco Botha

By December 4, 2018 No Comments

Audio Version

What is it like managing as a CTO and as a product manager? How is it similar? How is it different? Our guest for this episode knows and he’s here to tell us. Jaco Botha is a product manager today but has also been a CTO in the past.

On today’s CTO Studio, Jaco shares his experiences and wisdom from both roles and how he’s made the switch in his latest position. We also talk about some of the commonalities and differences found in CTOs in South Africa versus the United States, along with his work on products that implement the FIDO Alliance specifications. Join us on this edition of CTO Studio.

In this episode, you’ll hear:

  • How are product managers like mini-CTOs?
  • How can you manage through influence?
  • What is FIDO and why are companies like Google and Amazon involved with it?
  • How many passwords does the typical tech person need to manage?
  • What is relay logic?
  • And so much more!

Jaco hired me back in the mid-90s and I consider him to be my first boss. We stayed in touch over the years and then reconnected in person when I was in South Africa. I shared my vision for 7 CTOs and he knew it made sense for him to get involved. He introduced me to his long-time mentor and within a few minutes, we started 7 CTOs in South Africa. And now we have two flourishing forums in two different cities.

My first question was about CTOs in South Africa: how disconnected are they there versus in the US? Jaco has been speaking to some CTOs in the States and the same issues are popping up in both places. The typical CTO doesn’t have a business or leadership background, like many of the other C suite types so it can be lonely for them. The technical part comes easy, and the people part is more complicated.

Culturally are they inclined to share and help? Jaco thinks South Africans are very friendly in general, and he finds that engineers are generally very eager to help (and most CTOs come from an engineering background). In terms of whether South African CTOs are different from American CTOs, Jaco doesn’t think they are that different. I agree and think there is a universal language among developers of all levels.

A difference in South Africa versus the US is the title of CTO. It is not as well known or not as common in South Africa as it is in the United States. CTOs and CTO types are more likely to be called Technical Director or Director of Engineering or even Development Manager. Even some of the members of 7 CTOs in South Africa have the title of CIO, which is a bit less common in the US. They are still doing a CTO job but they are called CIOs.

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Next, we talk about his current role. In the past, he’s been a CTO, has founded a company as a CEO founder and currently he’s in a product management role. What I wanted to know was how he is integrating this product management concept into his hardware company in his current role and what his responsibilities are within that role.

Jaco works for a company called Etion Create. They are a division of a listed group and are the original design manufacturer leg of the group. They design and manufacture and support the whole product cycle of physical digital products.

An example is something used in a mine like a gas meter or headlamp that is interconnected with wireless technology and is integrated with the system. They also have products in the IOT space and in cars for monitoring behavior, among other places.

So within his company, they have the ability to develop the hardware, firmware and software to meet the customers’ need, manufacture it and program it and then release and support it. Traditionally their business model was to build to spec: they get specs from the customer and then they execute on those specs. They design the hardware so it works properly the first time, and it was something they did really well.

What they are evolving to is understand the market the customer is in as well as if not better than the customer understands it themselves. Doing so helps them anticipate demand and add value to their customers; their customers are typically systems integrators or OEMs of products. They need to get so good at understanding the market that they can anticipate the need and then partner with their customers to fill that need.

And I asked Jaco if they take this approach because it’s too expensive to build a bad product? Hear his answer to that question plus a discussion about what FIDO is, how it works and pinball machines! Join us for insights and more on today’s CTO Studio.

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