The Rambo CTO

Most good tech directors are also experienced technically. You may still be proud of the Good Ol’ Days when you used to burn the midnight oil and crank out amazing code, kinda Silicon Valley style.

And as most experienced people can testify, we usually have a sense of how a certain project or task should be accomplished, even before it was thoroughly researched. After all, not all of our work is novel.

A good manager, though, knows better than to dictate to their people the details of their tasks, delegating the appropriate decisions. But, delegating the task at the outset is only half the battle, the other half is knowing not to go full Rambo CTO. When you see the results of the work done by your team, it will rarely be exactly what you had in mind. The code might be structured differently, or you may have had a different tool in mind for the job.

The worst thing to do in such a scenario, when the team comes to you for final sign-off is to tell them exactly which parts should be changed and how in order for the result to match your vision (actually, the worst thing would be to do this when they haven’t even asked for your opinion yet).

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t have a say in what your team is doing. If you’re certain that there’s a glaring omission in the plans, or that the decisions made would have critical impact on your business, you should definitely speak up.

But, there’s the Rambo way, and there’s the CTO way. The Rambo way, of course, is to rush in, dagger between your teeth, and simply state what the Right Solution™ is. Yet, that’s not how you grow your team, and certainly not the right way to cultivate ownership.

The CTO way, is to walk your team through your worries. Do not ask “why didn’t you go with Couchbase for the persistent store?”, that’s not coaching. Instead, ask “how will this solution handle a tenfold increase in our user base in the next year?” Not “this should’ve been a standalone module”, but “how will you adjust this if we need to change the API we rely on?”

Even when I come in as consultant, with the sole intention of helping the team choose their architecture or come up with a solution for a problem, I make sure to do it as a process with the team. They should always be clear on our goals and reasoning, never parroting The Architecture. Otherwise, you’ll be a Rambo CTO and they won’t be able to do their work by themselves, eventually relying on their hero to always come in and save them.