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March 5, 2013

What does a CTO do?

Posted in Category: Work — amr @ 9:53 pm | link | | comments (2)
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I frequently get asked this question, and it is a question that I sought out to find an answer for a little less than a year ago (when I became full time CTO at Cloudera). I did a bunch of online research and talked to a number of enterprise software CTOs whom I look up to (listed at end). I summarize my findings by answering four core questions: (1) what is the CTO Mission? (2) how to measure the CTO? (3) How should the CTO split his/her time internally vs externally? then finally (4) what are the specific responsibilities of the CTO towards the main constituents inside the organization?

Note that this role description is focused on pure CTOs, as opposed to CTOs whom still own the operational aspects of the engineering organization, it is also biased towards enterprise CTOs vs other domains.

1. What is the Mission of the CTO?

The Mission for the CTO can be summarized across three axes:

A) Fiduciary for Long-Term Technical Strategy:

  • The CTO must effectively hold, develop, articulate, and continually evolve the company’s strategic technical direction.
  • The CTO is responsible for making sure the company continues to have the best technology offering in a dynamically-evolving highly-competitive space.
  • The CTO brings the proper balance between business and technology strategy by effectively connecting the outside world with the inside through distilling information into the key trends that indicate where the company needs to go next, thus aligning the company’s technology strategy with its business strategy.

B) Technical Evangelist:

  • The CTO must inspire/excite people internally around the long-term vision of the company, as well as convince outsiders that this is where the world is going to be, and that his/her company is the best choice to take them there.
  • The CTO must speak with authority about the market needs, must be credible with customers, and must be able to articulate the business value and ROI to a variety of audiences.

C) Spiritual Leader for the engineers and maintainer of the technical culture:

  • The CTO must rally the engineering organization towards the long-term technical goals of the company.
  • The CTO must be able to inspire new engineers to join the engineering organization and must help in the sourcing/identification of such talent.
  • The CTO must help set and maintain the technical culture to make sure the company can continue to retain and attract top technical talent.

2. How to measure the CTO performance?

I could think of three metrics which I outline below:

A) Tech Strategy Alignment:

This is a binary metric, if the company misses a key tech trend then counts against. Also, if there is a significant misalignment between the business and technology strategies then counts against. Towards that end, I highlight this quote which is attributed to Greg Papadopolous [x-CTO of Sun]:

“The CFO is not responsible for making revenue every quarter, but if there is a big surprise, fire her. Similarly, the CTO isn’t responsible for delivering products every quarter, but if he misses a key technical inflection point (e.g. the internet), fire him.”

B) Health of Engineering Culture:

This can be measured by doing a survey of the technical organization to ensure that they are productive and happy at same time. A lagging indicator is significant attrition of top engineering talent, or inability to attract new top talent to the company.

C) Internal CSAT:

In many ways the CTO, similar to the CFO, is a service center to all the other organizations in the company (more on these responsibilities later). Thus an appropriate metric is a weighted customer satisfaction score across these organizations (aka CSAT). If these internal organizations don’t feel they are getting value add out of the CTO, then it is time to fire him.

3. How should the CTO split his/her time internally vs externally?

There is no perfect answer for this one, but the right answer is a bit of both. The CTO will not be able to do a good job inside without having knowledge of the outside, and vice versa. The mix of external/internal is ultimately something that should come out of how the CTO can be of most help to the business. Also there’s travel/family to consider, you have to work sustainably, so find your own sweet spot. The answer will also change as a function of what stage the company is at. With that background this is how I split my time today:

A) External: 70% of time

  • Sales/Customers 35%
  • Marketing/Evangelism/Analysts 20%
  • Business Development/Partners 15%

B) Internal: 30% of time

  • Digest the info collected externally then funnel that knowledge to the appropriate internal teams.
  • Continuously connect engineering, product & business to ensure that the vision articulated publicly is where the company indeed is going, and that the technology roadmap aligns with that vision (especially for new initiatives).
  • Support the marketing team with collateral/white-papers that articulate the company vision.
  • Stay on top of engineering culture, processes, and retention.
  • Shepard for the Intellectual Property portfolio.

4. So what are the CTO’s specific responsibilities for each organization within the company?

 There are five main constituents that the CTO serves: (1) CEO/Strategy, (2) Engineering/Product, (3) Sales, (4) Business Development, and (5) Marketing. Below I list some of the key responsibilities towards each of these constituents.

A) CEO/Strategy

  • Predict and stay ahead of any technical inflection points that might significantly affect the company.
  • Advise the CEO (and CFO/COO) on the long-term technical strategic direction of the company and where to, or to not, make large strategic technical bets.
  • Provide the CEO with different “options” on the technical direction of the company and provide sufficient information for deciding what is the best option to take at any given time.
  • Be a sounding board for the CEO by providing a neutral view which puts the company’s long-term interests above all else. The CTO, similar to the CFO, is in a unique position to do this effectively since he/she doesn’t directly own significant business resources per se.

B) Engineering/Product:

  • Though the CTO isn’t responsible for the day-2-day tactical delivery, he should work closely with the VPs of Products & Engineering to make sure that the overall development direction is well aligned with the company’s strategic technical vision.
  • The CTO should influence the prioritization of resources across large strategic technical bets, but should not be involved in the daily execution once the priorities are set. In fact, it is important to let go entirely of obsessing over the day-2-day execution (which can be hard to let go of), but that is essential so you can focus on the long-term strategic thinking without being encumbered by the immediate constraints.
  • One of the key challenges for the CTO is how to champion people, projects and ideas without stepping on the toes of Product/Engineering management. This is why it is necessary that you seek training to become a strong influencer, and be very selective regarding which ideas you plan to focus your energy on (pick your battles).
  • You need to be a sounding board for the VP of Engineering, allow him to vent, and help him with brainstorming about the different challenges that the development team is facing. In many ways, the CTO and the VP of Engineering need to be bonded at the hip, it is a very critical relationship, so spend significant time on this.
  • Help with the recruiting/retention efforts (this includes ties to Academia).
  • Continuously optimize across the whole organization to avoid any duplication of effort and encourage cross-department fertilization.
  • Ensure alignment of the greater technical organization and, when necessary, arbitrate techno-centric turf scraps, architecture conflicts, etc.
  • Foster innovation by organizing periodic hackathons and by being a steward of innovation in the early stages.
  • Serve as master architect across product lines. I don’t do much of this at Cloudera though, we have a number of truly amazing engineers who are way better architects than I am, so best I can do is to simply get out of their way! (I only get involved if there is a strong conflict, which luckily is rare at Cloudera).

C) Sales:

  • Partner with the sales organization to effectively close customer accounts.
  • Partner with the sales organization to effectively close customer accounts.
  • Partner with the sales organization to effectively close customer accounts.
               (3x replication intended for emphasis)
  • Support the sales organization by building strong relationships with peers at strategic customer accounts.
  • Participate in customer meetings to articulate the long term technology road map hence strengthening the customer’s confidence that our company is leading the industry.
  • Speak with authority about the market; listen to customer needs; quickly understand their issues; and give good advice on the company’s products to the customers.
  • This is very important: know when to say “I don’t know”, then connect the customer with the proper resource whom can go deeper on the question being asked. A good CTO should never ever make shit up on the fly :)

D) Business Development and Partnerships:

  • Support the business development team in strategic partner engagements and maintain good relationships with peers at these organizations.
  • Provide technical due diligence of partner technologies and acquisition targets to make sure they properly fit with the company’s platforms, offerings, and culture.
  • The CTO should keep track of all the technology startups in the same space, and have them stack ranked based on what he/she can glean about their prospects. The CTO should have clear thoughts about: possible acquisition targets, what expertise is the company missing? which companies are doing the best work across all of the ancillary areas? which companies have the best technical teams? what could competitors buy that would hurt the company? etc. I rely significantly on my cofounder (Jeff Hammerbacher) for this part. 
  • Represent the company at select technical associations to re-enforce the company’s presence and voice with partners.
  • Predict if a new partner technology would have significant impact on the long-term technological roadmap for the company (e.g. a new type of storage or compute device).
  • Predict long-term competitive trends due to the constant shifts in the market.

E) Marketing:

  • Serve as public face of technology for the company.
  • Evangelize the company vision and technical direction through conferences, speaking engagements, and press/media/analyst activities.
  • Maintain good relationships with designated key industry analysts.
  • Support the marketing team in building a large active community around the company’s products (meetups, hackathons, industry conferences, etc).
  • Social engagement marketing through twitter, blog posts, articles/whitepapers, etc.

In summary, a great CTO can be invaluable for their organization as he/she has the luxury to step back and see the forest through the trees, and the ability to be the voice of the customer and of the employee. Whether you are a budding CTO, or a CTO veteran, I really hope you find this article useful. Please don’t hesitate to let me know if you disagree with any of the concepts presented here, or if there are major areas of responsibility that you think I overlooked.

Cheers,

– amr

PS: I would like to acknowledge the following folks/references:

 PPS: A good CTO must also know how to be an active participant in the VIM :)

 

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July 17, 2012

Yahoo Homepage Before and After Marissa Mayer :)

Posted in Category: Tech — amr @ 12:15 am | link | | comment (0)
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Yahoo Homepage Before Marissa Mayer:

Yahoo Homepage Before Mayer

Yahoo Homepage After Marissa Mayer:

Yahoo Homepage After Mayer

Congrats :)

– amr

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November 15, 2011

The Geometry of Startup Valuations.

Posted in Category: Tech,Work — amr @ 10:40 pm | link | | comments (1)
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I frequently find that I have to explain to candidates joining Cloudera (and existing employees) how not to be overly concerned about dilution of their percent ownership when a company is experiencing strong growth.

Towards that end I created the chart below to illustrate how percent ownership is just a small part of the total equation. The core concept is that the “paper” valuation of your stock options is equal to twice the area of your sector under the pie, and the area of your sector is proportional to your angle (i.e. your percent ownership) multiplied by the radius squared (where radius is the stock price). Hence if a startup raises a new round of funding at a large radius then that quickly out weighs any shrinkage in the angle of ownership due to the to the squaring of the stock price. I am not saying that you shouldn’t worry about dilution at all, you should obviously try to get the best deal and keep dilution low, but don’t be overly obsessed by dilution, it is just one factor in the grand scheme of things.

Fortunate startups that demonstrate repeatability/efficiency of their business model raise additional funds at a large radius so that they can fuel further growth thus making the pie larger for everyone. On the other hand startups that get overly concerned by dilution and avoid raising money (depsite being in a growth market) can fall in a penny-wise pound-foolish trap where they end up being a zombie company that goes nowhere (I know many such startups, and by the time they realize their mistake it is usually too late).

Cheers,

– amr

PS: For stock options, the “paper” value is (area of sector) minus (cost of sector), where cost of sector is angle * strike-price^2.

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February 6, 2011

Please help Egypt eliminate the Wall of Fear

Posted in Category: Politics — amr @ 8:59 pm | link | | comments (3)
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[There is a call to action at end of this post, please skip to it directly if you don’t have time to read]

Breaking down the wall of fearFirst, I would like to start by thanking all my dear US friends for the flood of messages asking me how things are going. My mom/dad are ok, they are both 65+ so they locked themselves up at home and are glued to the TV/Internet all day long. That said, they are *very happy* with what is going on, they are no longer oppressed, they are no longer afraid.

Two weeks ago I wouldn’t have had the courage to write what I am about to say, but this revolution in Egypt changed me in the same way that it changed Egyptians across the globe. See, we Egyptians have been bred to be scared of the ruling regime and never question them (this probably goes back thousands of years to Pharaohs era). While growing up in Egypt I was taught that if we speak up against the ruling regime then we will disappear into an undisclosed “dark room”, we’ll get whipped, our nails will be pulled out, wild dogs will rip our flesh off, and we might never return. Generation after generation was taught that lesson, and the government controlled media re-enforced that message in full force.

I came to the US in 1995, and at that time I was actually very happy and grateful for the 25 years I had lived in Egypt. My goal was to get my EE PhD from Stanford University then head back to Egypt to teach. It took about one year for me to start seeing the liberties people enjoy in the US, the lack of fear from being “excessively” oppressed, and the realization that the ruling regime is supposed to be working for us, *not* the other way around. I then felt betrayed that for all this time I was lied to and cheated, there is a better way to live out there, I didn’t have to live in such fear all these years. However, unlike the current heroes in Egypt, I choose the easy way out; I choose to make the US my home. In 2009 I got my US citizenship, so I am now an Egyptian American, and I hold citizenships with both countries. I am loyal to both countries, but more importantly, I am now loyal to freedom and justice of people across the world.

The sad part is, despite being a US citizen, I was still afraid to write or stand up against the ruling regime in Egypt. I was afraid that if I do so then next time I visit Egypt to see my parents I will be pulled to the aforementioned dark room, or they’ll get back at me by pulling my dad/mom instead. However, two weeks ago, when the Jan 25 revolution started, that changed overnight. Don’t ask me how or why, but that is what happened to me and many other Egyptians across the world. It was a spark that lifted the fear and awakened all of us. My dad took a bit longer to change though, understandably so, he endured many more years of conditioning and brain washing. I remember calling him in the first week of revolution, and when I would ask him what he thought about Mubarak he would divert the question and say “so how are the kids doing?”. He was still afraid of saying something bad about Mubarak lest phone lines are wiretapped, which is a very common practice in Egypt. Now the amazing thing is on the second week of protests, in which Mubarak cavalry killed many Egyptians but the peaceful demonstrations continued regardless, the wall of fear collapsed for my dad and *everybody* in Egypt (there is a minority that still supports Mubarak, but that is because they are benefiting from the regime). When I call my dad now he says everything in his heart, he isn’t afraid anymore, it is amazing (and hopefully this last sentence won’t get him in trouble). IMHO the fall of fear is actually the most important thing achieved by this revolution; it is the seed that will cause everything else to happen. It is because of this that I think Egypt is now on the right path, there will be a bit more turmoil, but things will get better.

Now that I have the courage to write against ruling regimes, I need to direct *strong* criticism to the US government. First, they knew about these atrocities/brutality, they knew that Mubarak was an oppressing tyrant, they knew that he controlled the Egyptians with fear, but they wanted him there, because he listened to them and did what they asked for (or believed the lies he told them about radicals, more on that later). But even if we were to assume that the US government didn’t know that the people were being terrorized (which I find very hard to believe), now they know for a fact that this is the case (see the many links at end of this post). Many say the US shouldn’t intervene in this matter; it is for the Egyptians to resolve. I agree with that, however, the US helped Mubarak stay there, so if we have any shred of decency left in US then we should at least undo our interference and back his removal now (it is our chance to smoothly bring around democracy in Egypt without raging a bloody expensive war like Iraq).

I will tell you outright that Mubarak is purposely lying to the US government by elevating the threat of radical Islamists to scare us into believing that they are causing this revolution to take over power (which is scary, I agree). However, this is absolutely *not* true, this revolution is by a new generation of youth whom the ruling regime couldn’t encapsulate in fear like previous generations. These youth had access to non-Egyptian censored media and were able to see how freedom tastes like in the rest of the world. When I came to US in 1995 the satellite broadcasting revolution was just starting in Egypt. This was a very pivotal point, since it allowed people to see media which isn’t controlled by the government. Then the Internet and mobile communications waves started in 2000 which allowed them to have virtual meetings to discuss, talk, and organize (anybody who participated in political gatherings in Egypt had the risk of being pulled into the dark room). Obama, a black man, being elected as president was also part of that taste, his marvelous Egypt speech in 2009 further emphasized that strong message of freedom and democracy. Anyway, the key message is that this revolution is by the people for the people, it isn’t by the radical Islamists whom are a minor fraction of the Egyptian population. If you watched the 8 million people who demonstrated last Friday (Feb 4th, aka Departure Friday), they broke into song and dance after finishing their prayers [http://youtu.be/ahCwBBndlVY], radical Islamists hate song and dance. Furthermore the crowd had women mixed with men, side by side [http://youtu.be/HErSVpn7vA8], another sign that radicals were a small part of this. Last, but not least, the Christians (about 15% of Egypt’s population) did their prayers before the Muslims, and then they proceeded to make a human chain to protect the Muslims while they were praying [http://bit.ly/hHfCS4]. It is a very diverse group; it isn’t the radicals at all.

Mubarak’s message to the US of “you need me in power to keep your interests safe” is 100% false, it is FUD [http://bit.ly/ejziyB] so the US keeps him in power. It is similar to the FUD he is creating internally, he pulled the police forces from the streets then unleashed goons to terrorize and steal so he can tell the people “you need me in power so I can keep you safe”. What a bunch of baloney. I can understand and sympathize with how some simple folks in Egypt can fall for that FUD (many did), but to see the US falling for it too is just unbearable. BTW, his latest trick is that the current Egyptian constitution doesn’t allow him to leave, he has to serve the rest of his period (yes, the 30 years period) then handoff the power to newly elected president in September. That is actually true, the constitution does say that, but only because he changed it to ensure so. The constitution was changed before and can be changed again. The people are saying we don’t want this, the people make up the constitution, not the president who is supposed to abide by it.

In conclusion, not unlike the 1789 French revolution asked for “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”, the Egyptian people are asking for “Bread, Liberty, and Human Dignity”. They are asking for Mubarak to step down *now* since trust is completely broken, he came on TV one day “promising” that he will leave in September then the next day his cavalry rammed into the protestors. I would say that stepping down isn’t enough, he should be prosecuted for the fear/oppression he planted in our hearts for all these years, and the billions he stole should be returned to the poor people who deserve it (or to the US who paid it at the first place). To the heroes of Jan25 I say thank you from the bottom of my heart for lifting the veil of fear, and to the brave ones still camping in Liberation Square I say “no retreat, no surrender”.

Finally, if you care about liberty then I urge you to tweet the following: @BarackObama: Mubarak Out *Now*, and stop financial aid to tyrants #egypt #jan25 (please RT). If you don’t have a twitter account then please email it to the White House using this form: http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact. If you are so inclined, you can also signup for the virtual “March of Millions” on Facebook: http://on.fb.me/i5ye8e. Other ways to help at: http://seda.me

Thanks,

– amr (twitter: @awadallah)
http://www.awadallah.com

PS: I paste below a number of links with some of the key videos/photos from the events of the last two weeks:

* Peaceful unarmed protestor gets shot in Alexandria
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1OlmTWpcmvk#t=119s

* Diplomatic car runs over at least 20 people, just like they’re zombies!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_cWOK0Lfh7w

* Another peaceful civilian gets sniped
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4XnhHzs91MY

* Fire truck runs over and flattens a protestor
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4QgLrBp47a8

* Police APC truck runs through a group of protestors
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RgwvCxS2nDw#t=50s

* Brave protestor stands up against police APC with mounted water canon
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FgxH93oSGn0#t=81s

* Dramatic video as thousands clash with Egypt riot police
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3xWiBCIxjIk

* Police against protestors on Anger Friday (Jan 28)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBtYLBQPRGQ

* Mona Seif talks from inside Liberation Square on night it was attacked
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LSBJwsjakcg

* Shahira Amin on why she quit Egypt State TV due to false propaganda
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1pZl8yVwkn0

* Rachel Maddow on how reporters were being attacked in Egypt
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QeD9B3b4xzs

* Interview with Miral at Liberation (Tahrir) Square
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RtLJpzUp2Z8

* Asmaa Mahfouz, one of the first youtube videos that started the revolution
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eBg7O48vhLY

* 2min video compilation with highlights from the revolution:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ThvBJMzmSZI

* 9min video compilation with highlights from the revolution:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-HGfFyqJMrk

* Wealth that Mubarak family accumulated ($40B to $70B, yes B for Billion)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Il-36NXye2c

* Wael Ghonim (Head of Marketing for Google Middle East) was taken to the dark room (he is still there till now)
http://nyti.ms/fo7JI7

* Misc photos from the revolution
http://blogs.sacbee.com/photos/2011/01/rioting-and-chaos-engulfs-egyp.html

* Photos for some of those who died during this revolution (at least the ones we know of)
http://1000memories.com/egypt

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December 29, 2009

Back to Netflix

Posted in Category: Life — amr @ 2:06 pm | link | | comment (0)
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About two years ago I wrote about switching from Netflix to Blockbuster, well, now I am switching back to Netflix.

The reasons for the reversal:

  1. Netflix now streams movies to my PC (in home office), Xbox 360 (in living room), and PS3 (in bedroom) :). I only ask that they expand the online streaming selection to include newer movies, even if I have to pay an extra per movie fee for that (I don’t like to pay XBox Live or Playstation Network $5 to see a movie, that is such a rip off)
  2. Netflix now is much better at shipping out blockbuster titles without a long wait (I actually timed Blockbuster vs Netflix head to head on a number of popular new movies, Netflix always shipped out first)
  3. Netflix’s web user interface is more intuitive and much snappier than Blockbuster’s, especially when it comes to editing the movie queue and moving things around.
  4. Last, but not least, previously with Blockbuster when I dropped a movie at the physical store, I could pickup another movie from the store then they immediately shipped another movie from my queue. They changed that system, they now don’t ship another movies from the queue until I return the movie I picked from the store. Furthermore, they now limit the number of in-store swaps that you can do. This was actually one of the main reasons why I started looking at Netflix again.

Bye bye Blockbuster.

– amr

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