Talent Meetup – Journey to CTO (Event Recap)

Author: Camila Louzada

On January 26th, the BCTIA and BC Tech Jobs kicked off their 2016 Talent Meetups with a highly engaging and insightful discussion on the “Journey to CTO”. Some of Vancouver’s most interesting CTOs, including Tal Ball from BuildDirect, John Boxall from Mobify, Gord Elder from ResponseTek, and Johnny Oshika from Jobcast/BCJobs.ca, shared their stories, career highlights, challenges, and tips for success with a crowd of technology professionals at the BCTIA Innovation Hub. Attendees left inspired and had a chance to chat with the CTOs one-on-one afterwards to introduce themselves in person and potentially build bridges to help their career growth in the future.

Talent Meetup

Here are some highlights from the panel discussion:

What are the common qualities you see in your most successful team members?

Empathy; being able to relate to our clients and what they go through. No prima donnas. Ambition; people who elevate themselves and the company and find interesting solutions. Business domain; spending the time to learn about the business, the problems we are trying to solve. Passion is crucial, and it is part of our challenge to find and ignite that in people. The characteristics of people who are bound to excel are different from company to company, as well as within one company as it grows – as a startup, we needed the crazy hackers who got the job done fast; now, collaboration is a lot more important.

How does one build the bridge from technical developer to business leader?

First, it’s important to know what you like to do (and that might change over time); maybe you want to remain technical if you’re happy there. Being a people leader and technical leader are different tracks and many companies will recognize that and invest in both. If you want to make the jump, look around for learning opportunities, whether that’s in education, at work, or other business opportunities. At work, look for the small wins; there are always things that can be better, low-effort projects that can have a big impact. These small wins help management recognize who is killing it and reward them for it. Developers most likely to progress into non-development roles are the ones who ask a lot of questions about why we are building a product and share ideas to make it better – these people naturally start to lead because others want to get behind their ideas.

Last but not least, follow the value proposition. Connect to both sides – product and customer – and understand what the technology needs to do as well as what problem the customer is trying to solve. There’s the coder and the customer; the rest of us are overhead, so we need to add a lot of value.

How do you stay up to date with technology?

Twitter for the latest and greatest, which can lead to other sources for deeper dives. Our teams, who serve as a filter function for all the new tech and ideas out there. Scanning headlines and trends. Access to industry analysts (although they are not always useful). Singularity university for high impact ideas.

What drives you?

“Passion for building teams and seeing them achieve success. The technology, staying current, and maintaining a sense of what makes sense or not.” – Tal Ball

“Being at the intersection of strategic vs tactical, technology vs business focus, and acting as a translator between sales/marketing and product. Having the opportunity to think of long term stuff but also control how we deliver it. Having diversity in the role.” – Gord Elder

“Building things. Lots of people have mobile, so that’s where I could make the most impact. It’s cool to see lots of people are using what I coded, and then building the bigger blocks.” – John Boxall

“I love creating things; tie that with business, and now you can go from creativity to accomplishment when you see others using what you’ve built.” -Johnny Oshika

What advice would you give to someone building a career in tech?

Now is a fantastic time to start a tech career, as there is so much power, technology, and opportunity at your fingertips. Get tech experience, even if it happens to be unpaid, and look for open source projects and meetups to build up your resume. Most hires happen through referrals, so don’t limit yourself to job boards, reach out to people you know; however, don’t send the same email to everybody on the engineering team of a company. Think about what kind of company is right for you and what you want to accomplish. Vancouver’s tech scene is very diverse, so know if you prefer a small team where you can do a lot and branch out or if you prefer to specialize and learn from others around you, and then choose a company accordingly. Find out what the company culture and values are, as you won’t find success if you’re not aligned with them.

The conversation went way beyond these questions, from their career progression, to first-sale stories, to decision-making processes, and it was truly inspirational and fun to hear from these CTOs. All attendees left with valuable tips and tools to become as successful in their own careers as the CTOs are, and are looking forward to putting these pearls of wisdom to practice in their professional lives.

A big thank you to Tal, Gord, John and Johnny for sharing their expertise, and to all attendees for making this event a big success. See you at the next Talent Meetup!

Talent Meetups focus on a variety of current technology and career advancement topics. To stay tuned on upcoming events, join our Meetup group here. If you’d like to join a Meetup panel as a speaker and promote your employment brand, please email clouzada@bctia.org and ryan@bcjobs.ca.