Episode 006: CTO Stories That Need to Be Told

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So today, there’s no guest. But I’d like to talk to you about stories from a CTOs perspective. And essentially, what I really want to talk to you about today is how you can better communicate things to the other corporate executives, because we all know that in a corporate environment, there’s generally an executive team, and that executive team makes all of the decisions about where money is spent, how money is spent, how often money is spent, etc.

And so one of the problems you have is that corporate executives do not have lots of knowledge about technology. So they don’t understand some of the things that go on in the technology world. And therefore, they cannot accurately approve or deny requests that are made by the CTO of the company. So one of the first stories I want to tell you is I used to work as the CTO for a restaurant delivery service. And they had commissioned software from another developer. And essentially what they did was they bought his source code. And then for a year for that price, he would modify the code, and then they would take theirs and branch off into their own, and he would take him and branch off into his own. And that’d be that.

Well, one of the weakest aspects of this program was the fax server. So there were orders that would get faxed to restaurants as they came in. And unfortunately, what was happening was that Chinese food was ending up at a hamburger restaurant, hamburger restaurant was ending up a Chinese restaurant, because of the load that was being put on the machine that was running the fax server. So I finally decided it needed to be fixed.

And so I had at the time had a contractor working for me. And we sat down and we each spent an entire 40 hours of nothing but coding different pieces of this fax server, he took some parts, I took some parts, and then we put it out on one of the busiest days of the year, Valentine’s Day, the dispatch team told us they did not have any faxes go to the wrong places. Fast forward about a week, and that story remains the same. They had not had a single fax go to the wrong place.

So on a particular day, above my office was my boss’s office, and he called me up along with a contractor. And he wanted to talk about priorities. And I don’t remember what exactly occurred. But the contractor got a little annoyed and said, you know, Mike, and I just spent a total of 80 hours on a fax server, and it’s perfect. There’s not been a single problem, and I haven’t heard you once, say thank you for it. And this executive proving their lack of knowledge, I looked at the two of us and pointed at the light switch on the wall and said, “Do you see that light switch over there?” And we said, yeah, and he said, “When I flipped that switch on in the morning, and the lights come on, I don’t call the electrician and thank him for it.”

Well, obviously a very different situation. That light switch had been there forever. The fax server was broken. The point is he didn’t understand the effort that it took to make that happen. And it’s your job as the CTO to educate him on that.

Now another example is one day, I CEO came to me and he wants to know why we couldn’t voice enable our website. He had seen it in a movie now. Guys, this was in the early 2000s. There was no voice technology that would work for a website, but he wanted this. And so I had to educate him on why that wouldn’t work. I had to show him articles that said that voice technology was at least five to 10 years off, et cetera. But the point is, he learned he didn’t ask anymore.

Then the final big story that I have for you on this issue is the suggestion engine story. So of course, as a restaurant delivery service, we would deliver food for various restaurants and various kinds of food. But it wasn’t always you know, we didn’t have just one genre of food that we used. But in any event, he saw our CEO saw Amazon’s suggestion engine and how accurate it was. And he thought, well, this is a way to boost sales. And so he came to me. And he wanted to know if we could do it. Now, yes, I could do this. But Amazon spent $2 million on the initial investment, and then a million dollars a year after that, to keep it maintained. And so I gave him articles on this. And I explained to him how difficult the process was, and that there really wasn’t a way to make a good suggestion engine without spending that money at the time, you have to remember that this was 25 years ago.

Well, by educating him, he understood more about what was going on. And so that’s the key here, guys, educate your executives, so that they gain an understanding forward them articles that are about things that you’ve heard them talk about, speak at meetings on a specific topic, pick a topic like email security, how to avoid viruses, and then talk about it, it gives you great chance to talk about the things you’ve put in place, what I would do is, I would have a meeting like during a meeting, I’d get a segment on how to avoid how to handle spam and an email in emails. And then I would talk about our email server and how what kind of software we were running, what its capabilities were, and what were some future projects down the road that we were planning on doing related to the email server.

And at that point, I’m educating my team, my executive team on the topics that are going to come up. Also, when you have tech projects, get your executives involved as testers, let them see the process and how I mean, it’s very eye-opening for an executive to see the process of how something goes from being an idea to a completed project. And I want you to think about that as you as you go through these things. And as you listen to this episode, executives, only know what they know. And they don’t know what they don’t know. And that’s an obvious thing, right?

So make sure that you’re constantly educating them, constantly looking for ways to educate them, and invite your team members to come in and talk on a topic that’s related to their job, maybe your network security person can come in and talk about security concerns, and what he’s doing to protect your company. These are all things that executives are going to appreciate. But they’re also going to learn so much from it, that they’re going to give you less and less pushback and see people who trust you will listen to you. And that’s what you have to do show them why they can trust you and how they can trust you.

So the last part I want to talk to you about is, you know, how to show them things so that they get it. So like we said, a lot of people don’t understand the technology process. And so I was tasked with speeding up the client-server application that we ran at the restaurant delivery service, and it just wasn’t going to happen the way they wanted. And so I suggested a complete rewrite into a web-based application was going to cost $500,000. And they did not want to spend because they did not see the benefit. They kept saying that technology, people always say that things are going to be better, but then they’re not. So what I did was we had a dispatch screen that had all the orders pending dispatch, and pending delivery, which would constantly refresh because the colors would change to mean different statuses, etc. Well, what I ended up doing to sell them on this idea was I created a new screen, I dropped a web browser control on that screen, and I did this personally. And then I created a .NET back end that ran the dispatch screen. It cost me about $1,000 to do this. And I showed it to them and I released it and they were like, Oh my God, what did you do to the dispatch screen, it’s so much faster. Oh my god, it’s so much faster.

In the end, we paid the $500,000. And we redid the entire application. Then there’s the court in California and source control. So I got brought into this project to help them with a paperless document reader system. And they weren’t using Source Control. They were all going to a shared drive and editing the files right there. And a lot of the time they were having to edit the same file as someone else and override things. And so I just had to talk to them about source control and I had to show them how much more efficient source control is. And so I started showing them how when I use source control, nothing ever gets overwritten for me and I don’t override anything for anyone else. And in the end, they made the switch and they decided to use source control. So, always remember as we get to the end of this really short solo episode, always remember that as the tech executive, it is your job to educate the other executives. Do what you have to do to show them what it is you’re up to. Don’t be secretive, be transparent, and be as transparent as you possibly can. Anyway, that’s all I have for you today. So thanks for tuning in to gain the technology leadership edge and we hope that you’ve had a great time with us learning everything you need to know to stay ahead of the technology curve. Remember, be curious, and be updated on all the latest trends. Show them who’s boss. Until next time, we’ll be back with plenty more techy tips and tricks so you can stay on top of your game. See ya

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Mike offers coaching services and various courses and ebooks that help tech executives like you gain the technology edge they deserve. Get in touch at CallWithMahony.info