I had the privilege of meeting Steve Hart, CTO of ViaSat, a few months ago at a Startup “Speed Dating” event here in San Diego. The event consisted of startup founders spending 30 minutes with 5 different tech entrepreneurs in order to get feedback on business ideas.
Steve had good technical advice (although less so for the actual product I was helping elicit feedback for) — a lot of which is echoed in this short interview as a part of the “Inside the Minds” series by the now defunct Aspatore Books.
Some highlights from Steve’s interview:
“I am as much a chief innovation officer as I am a chief technology officer. I must champion innovative ideas and make sure that our employees are set up to be innovators.”
I love the idea of empowering your team to be innovators. This includes the ideas of embracing side-projects and even setting up time during work hours for employees to focus on those projects. MailChimp’s CEO, Ben Chestnut, gave a great presentation on how a lot of MailChimp’s features are the byproduct (or entropy) of a team member’s side project.
“It may seem counterintuitive that a CTO would use the same measures of success as that of a CEO, but unless you can understand directly how your technology decisions impact the business, there is no way that you can know that those decisions are the right ones.”
In a world of infinite data and metrics, Steve’s comment here makes a lot of sense. All the pageviews, conversions, uptime, passed CI checks, and commits by your team ultimately mean very little if they do not align with the same business goals that drive the company forward. Thus, the business goals become the supreme form of measurement, top down.
"You must be able to influence people, which, as a co-worker once memorably stated, “is the ability to let other people have it your way.” You must be a good coach in order to help your team succeed. When appropriate, you must delegate. It is important to delegate end goals, not particular tasks: let smart people figure out how to do it themselves.”
Here’s a link to the full read of Steve’s interview: