Whew, long time no post.
I got a new job - VP of Engineering. This means I have to
wear two technical hats - both as CTO, my old job, and now
as VP of Engineering. I have been having something of an
amusing time finding out how different the two roles are,
much to my charign.
As CTO, I go out and talk to a lot of customers, partners,
and the press. It's my job to be a visionary - to research
and understand new markets for Linuxcare, to define and
pursue the strategic vision of the company along with the
executive team. It also means that it's my job to talk a
lot with customers and potential customers and open their
eyes to the benefits of open source, and to Linuxcare's
role. It involves a lot of sales activity. It is about
defining and architecting the future products and services
we'll offer. It's a great job.
As VP of Engineering, I have a very different role - I have
to have very well defined requirements, specifications, and
test plans - and I have to do everything I can to make sure
that the engineers know exactly what they are building, for
whom, and what their deadlines are. I spend my time talking
with the engineers, project managers, and end-customers to
make sure that we're on track and that the engineers have
all the resources they need. It is my job to reduce their
complexity, have well-defined deliverables, and make sure
that we're making our dates.
The problems started when I began talking about the sales
calls I was going on, describing some of the cool future
uses of the projects and technologies we were building.
Things got really bad when I brought some of the engineers
out on sales calls, and they heard "Dave the CTO" talking to
What I didn't realize is that I have an interesting ability
to hold these two dissonant job descriptions in balance in
my mind - The visionary that is describing where we're going
to take the customer, where Linucare's competencies are
evolving, and the kinds of products and services we'll have
in 6 months was scaring the bejesus out of some of the
engineers who were wondering, "Omygod, is he expecting me to
have that thing built today?"
The hard reality hit me in the face when one of the
engineers got very hesitant and started asking
questions about product definition - at first, I was a bit
put off, but after some long discussions with him and the
other members of the team, I learned that I wasn't
communicating clearly exactly what he and his team were
supposed to build RIGHT NOW. Instead it looked like there
was scope creep all over the place, and that the entire
process was completely unfocused.
Essentially, I wasn't being clear about when I was CTO, and
when I was VP of Engineering. And as VP of Engineering, I
had to make sure that I was bludgeoning the hell out of the
CTO - so that the engineers had clear knowledge of exactly
what they were to build, who they were building it for, and
when it was due. There is no room for the visionary in that
role - it has to be very concrete, making sure that we have
well-defined requirements, specs, project plans, etc.
Basically, I had to tell the CTO to shut up. ;-)
This has been a really valuable learning experience for me -
and I'm really glad that my team has gotten through this
with me with mostly chuckles and good natured barbs. I'm
really grateful that they showed me where I was fucking up.
So now I'm trying to be really clear about when I'm speaking
as CTO, and when I'm speaking as VP of Engineering. I hope
the folks continue to keep me honest on that front...