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May 2, 2017updated 20 Jul 2022 5:56am

Can your CTO still code?

Kony CTO Bill Bodin urges CTO's to to ‘get their hands dirty’, outlining how they should embrace the requirement to learn and adapt when necessary.

By Ellie Burns

Many Chief Technology Officers begin by studying technology, before entering the field. The problem is that many CTOs today no longer maintain the core skills for application development proficiencies. A good CTO should be able to apply practical knowledge to build better software and shouldn’t rely on advice of their engineers or consultants for technical expertise. CTOs should have experience in managing people and guiding technical strategy.

Ask any C-level executive what’s top of mind for their organisation today and “digital transformation” will rank high on that list. However, the CTO is often at the mercy of many differing opinions within their own organisation, without the relevant understanding or depth, of the challenges, capabilities or even limitations that certain platforms present.

Further to this, when a CTO completely relies on the advice of their engineers, that advice may simply be based on the pre-existing comfort levels or biases of the designers and programmers.  This results in an organisation that’s slow to adopt changes and new solutions. When you’re consistently taking the word of others and haven’t maintained enough skill to perform basic discovery for yourself, you, as a CTO, are significantly diluting your capability to drive true digital transformation for your organisation and consumers.

My Journey

Shortly after joining Kony, I decided I needed to become as proficient in the platform as I possibly could. I was not going to simply review PowerPoint decks, read whitepapers or do web research, I wanted to dive head first into the Kony platform capabilities, and learn the skills needed to shape those capabilities into world class business to enterprise and business to consumer solutions.

I was fortunate enough to have an onsite developer boot camp in progress during my second week, so I took that opportunity to jump right in. I think at the beginning they thought I was auditing the class or evaluating our developer education program. This wasn’t the case, I found it incredibly insightful and took the opportunity to learn alongside the other developers.

The week-long class inspired me to join a certification program which allowed me to learn about the challenge of building a complete, non-trivial, end-to-end app.

I worked on my certification assignment for a few weeks in my spare time and completed the app. I notified the education coordinator and we scheduled a time to review my work. The review was thorough, as I took the coordinator and instructor step-by-step thru the code. They made sure I was caching resources when I needed to, and that all the requirements of the application, including animations, segmented widget handling, web services definitions and integrations were appropriate. I passed, I was a certified Kony developer.

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Since that time, the certification and, most importantly, the effort that went into it, has paid valuable dividends. I now truly understand the Kony platform capabilities and can easily relate complex ideas and transformational concepts directly to our architects, developers, executive team and customers. The same is true for third party components and technologies that integrate into solutions via our platform.

My advice

It’s important for CTOs to be aware of all the elements within the process and understand the technology you’re considering integrating into your own platforms and workflows.

Further to this, see what real developers are saying about the technology and validate approaches. I use stack overflow all of the time. Even then I consider approaches that deviate from the mainstream. After all, the norm is not exactly at the center of real innovation and transformation.

Secondly, embrace your ability to learn and adapt when necessary. Be careful also not to get so immersed in the minutia that you lose sight of your overall responsibility to drive technology at a broader level.

I understand there is a diversity of CTOs throughout the enterprise today, including pharma, fintech, aerospace, and retail to name just a few.  With this, there may be domain specific reasons why a CTO in a company may or may not still regard coding as a valuable skill. But, I encourage CTOs in any industry, no matter your discipline, to dive deeper into the technologies you are evaluating and potentially adopting.

It’s your duty to experiment and show leadership through example to your team. Don’t risk the success of your next project – a project that may propel your company to the next level of digital transformation. Learn from experimentation, first-hand, and experience what it feels like to be a true, technically vital, and a real member of your own team.

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