Interviewer: Tell me something about yourself. What is your role in Software Brothers?
Wojtek: My name is Wojtek Krysiak, and I am the CTO of the company Software Brothers. Apart from being the CTO, I am also the co-founder of the company. With the other co-founder, Chris, we started Software Brothers with just two people on board. In the beginning there was just me and him. Over time, the team grew to fifty people. Along the way, I held different roles in the company, starting from being a developer. I gradually gravitated towards other responsibilities as the company grew. I was a product owner, project manager, account manager – a sales guy actually, pitching our services to the clients. With time, I increasingly focused on technology. I went on to become a software architect when the projects we worked on got bigger. I also took the role of the head of production and finance in our company. Ultimately, I ended up being the CTO of the company, as our business has grown substantially.
How did you become a CTO?
As I’ve mentioned, it was a long and winding path. I took the role because I realized that technology is the beating heart of every software company. Whether you are a startup building a software product or a software house working with developers, technology always plays the central role. Usually one of the founders takes care of that. In Software Brothers, we decided that would be me.
What is the role of the Chief Technology Officer?
As I’ve said before, the CTO takes care of the technology side of things in the company. By taking care of the technology I mean making high-level decisions about the technology we use, standards, tools, and platforms. Such a person controls the growth of the technology stack, i.e. what programming languages and libraries we use in our work, what’s the plan for the next year regarding the technology in our company, and how people grow their skills, etc. This is the part of my work that’s strictly connected to the production. The other part is connected with marketing, so to speak. This basically means that I’m the guy who talks to our clients and tries to convince them that we are the best company to work with, as far as technology competence goes. This means I have to be up to speed with all the newest trends and technologies on the market, and be well-versed with different architectures.
The second responsibility connected with being a good CTO is the actual programming skills. Right now, we are 50 people strong, and with this team size it’s still very important to know how to code. This skill comes in handy, for example, when I need to convince the developers not to use the latest technology because it might be unstable. Naturally, I would love to go in the direction, but I have to be the voice of reason that tells when something is not safe for our projects. It’s better to choose something safer and established instead, i.e. something that has been around for some time. And my competence has to be undeniable here. I need to make people believe that my judgement, or intuition, is right. I have to speak the same language as they do, but also have the power and solid arguments up my sleeve to convince them. They have to believe that this is the right solution. If I told them to use one thing instead of another but there were no sound arguments to support my decision, it would not work. They have to respect my decision not just because of my position in the company, but primarily because of my experience.
What skills should a CTO have?
From my perspective, the most important trait of a good CTO is being good at learning. Simply because technology is a part of the economy nowadays, and everything is very volatile. It’s important to be up to speed with the latest developments and trends in the industry. What also helps is the ability to differentiate the things that are actually worth looking into from temporary technological fads or trends. Being able to make this crucial distinction keeps us afloat. It’s a very important part of what we do. We have to learn very, very fast.
Apart from the regular CTO skills, there are a number of soft skills that also help a lot. For example, you have to be good at talking with people, convincing them, and have solid management skills. This is also important because being a CTO is not as much about coding, but primarily about convincing people how to code and solve issues. Also, because you are the face of the company, it is your role to convince your clients to your ideas.
Could there be a company without a CTO?
Well, it’s just a title. If you have a tech lead, i.e. a very good programmer, this person could also take similar responsibilities, and would probably do quite well. This person would need to keep an eye on technology trends. And that would probably work, but you also need someone who takes care of other processes in the company – quality assurance and so on. Such a person would need to know how to measure things, and how to lead Agile projects, for instance. So the responsibilities of a CTO are rather a combination of several areas.
Who did you want to be as a kid?
As a kid, I mostly thought about girls and little beyond. I didn’t have any specific dreams. I never wanted to become an astronaut, archeologist or whatnot. I never had specific plans for my future. But I knew I wanted to be an independent guy, which naturally led me to thinking about starting a company. My goal was to have something I could have full control of.
When I graduated from my secondary school and needed to decide on a university major, I always thought that I didn’t want to be a programmer. I imagined it to be a very boring job, and didn’t want to sit at the computer all my life. Apparently, though, something went wrong, and here I am – the CTO of a software development company.
In the next part of the Interview with Wojtek, wojtek will talk about how he gained experience, which projects he is most proud of and how to keep up with the newest trends in IT. We will also find out what the responsibilities of the CTO are, on what kind of KPI he is most focused on and what is biggest challenge of being CTO.