Tech in the 603, The Granite State Hacker

Can Your “Non-Tech” Company Afford To Skip an Experienced CTO?

This is a programmer’s blog, in general. I often get down to bits & bytes of computer programming techniques. I want to take a moment to consider this, though, to help some of my less technically focused friends.

Unless your company is directly hawking tech related services or products, you might not think of yourself as a “tech” company. Even if you sell via digital marketplaces such as websites, you might not think of yourself as a “tech” company. Can you get away with rolling without considering technology in your strategy?

I get it. You probably don’t provide tools for computer programmers, or computer hardware builders. You have a savvy friend who helps you with your company web site, and another one who helps you decide what laptop model to give your top staff.

That said, you have competition that’s constantly re-inventing YOUR business model with technology. Even if a startup doesn’t come out of the woodwork to take a crack at your market, a goliath like Amazon is likely already stirring the pot. By cutting across every market in the known universe, Amazon may not technically be a monopoly, but they are using technology (and especially Artificial Intelligence) to scale and stack the odds against you.

What is a CTO? A Chief Technology Officer is a title and role usually associated with someone in the executive suite of a generally publicly traded company. That said, a CTO can be a role of a privately held company, as well.

What does a CTO do, exactly? The specifics of the roles differ from company to company… especially in larger enterprises that can afford to have these roles distributed over a larger team of individuals. The following is a general description of what a CTO does. In many larger companies, a CTO role may be split across a team, with teammates having titles like Chief Intellectual Property Officer, Chief Security Officer, Chief Information Officer, and such.

The bottom line for these roles is to do what any CxO role does; improve the overall value of the organization to its stakeholders, within some aspect of technology.

Chief Technology Officer

A CTO “chief technology officer” is responsible, at the topmost level, for some or all of following:

  • Business strategy from a technological viewpoint.
    • First and foremost, a CTO is responsible for making sure technology serves the business needs and strategies of the company.
    • This means keeping an eye on technologies, their benefits, how much they cost, how they play together with technologies already at play in your company. Where possible it may even mean being aware of high-level technologies at play in your competitor’s companies.
    • This also means understanding the total costs and return on investment. In the way that a home renovator should be making sure a renovation project adds to the resale value of your home, a CTO should be making sure technical aspects of business strategy add to the “resale” value of your business.
      • Is there an appliance that would do the trick?
      • Is there a service?
      • Which solution costs the most up front?
      • Which will have the best total cost of ownership?
      • Should we build our own solution?
        • Should we hire a contractor to build a solution for us?
      • Which will provide the best strategic / competitive advantage?
      • Is there an opportunity for Artificial Intelligence
      • Which cloud provider(s) have offer the best value for your needs?
  • Technical evangelism
    • This is about being the technical face of the company which can aid in partnership relations, cross-partnership automation, technical talent hiring, big-picture technical vendor selection, and mergers and acquisitions.
    • This also means helping other employees adopt new technology solutions, and train them to use them correctly.
  • Technical security
    • There is a balance between security/risk and convenience/reward that every technology solution needs to strike. The CTO is responsible for overseeing that balance related to technology.
    • Technical security is also about maintaining the trust of the people who use the solutions, that the solution is correct, does the needed job, and does so while limiting the company’s risks.
  • Technical project oversight
    • While a CTO isn’t a generally a project manager in the classic sense, the CTO does oversee the technical aspects of the project. This includes helping to guide project requirements, making sure implementers have the tools they need to get the job done, and making sure project decisions are practical in terms of budget and return on investment.
    • It’s also about making sure projects are built according to requirements and needs, and remain on strategy as they are being built.
    • Technical review of vendor and product selection falls in the area.
  • Technical debt management
    • No technical decision comes without some recurring cost. This recurring cost is typically a trade-off; the lower the up-front cost, the higher the technical debt tends to be. Sometimes technical debt is a subscription fee. Other times, technical debt can be in the form of a sub-process that must be done “manually” because it costs too much to automate.
    • As solutions age, they become less competitive, thus contributing to technical debt.
    • Integrations between systems are often contributors to technical debt. Proper analysis will show which integrations should be automated, and which can be left to “manual” workflows.
  • Technical team management
    • A CTO is often responsible for helping to identify and hire candidates for internal positions, including technical systems implementers and integrators.
    • A CTO needs to know when to delegate. Delegation may be in terms of individual tasks to teammates, or project management.

A CTO is not responsible for having all the answers on the tip of their tongue, but for knowing how to find appropriate expertise within a reasonable time frame as needed.

There’s a number of reasons why bringing a CTO on staff might seem difficult.

One way to get started is to consider bringing a consultant on board to serve in the role.

Such a consultant will

  • be able to work part time with you while demands are lower, potentially splitting their own needs across other clients like you, thus lowering your costs.
  • be focused on the guidance and success of your business strategies while working for you.
  • be willing to sign non disclosure and non-compete agreements.
  • be ready to help you find a permanent placement for the role as the role grows into the need.
  • perform all the functions of a classic CTO while in this capacity for you.

In conclusion, there’s a no reason any company of any size today should not think of themselves as a technology company. Further, as such, having a person in the role of a Chief Technology Officer is more than practical. In all but the smallest of businesses, it’s fully necessary.

Tech in the 603, The Granite State Hacker

Winds of Change

If you hadn’t heard yet, Jornata merged with BlueMetal.  As part of the merger, BlueMetal organized a session of “BlueMetal Academy” to help transition the team.  In spirit of a true merger, Jornata members participated as trainers, as well, showing that Jornata’s culture is really being assimilated, not purged.  (The merger is a solid marriage, rather than simple annexing of resources, both sides bring common values but distinct strength to the partnership). 

At the end of the training, we were asked to come up with one word to reflect what we’d learned over the course of it.  Just one…  on a moment’s notice.  Responses were things like “Integrity”, “Consistency”, “Connection”, “Inspiration”, “Committed”, “Legit” and a few other words of similarly positive connotation.

I had the advantage of being among the last in line to respond, so I considered each of them as they were spoken.   In my head, I responded to each word as it was spoken.  “Yes”, “True”, “Good one”… those all fit.  “What says all of that?”, I thought.  Digging deep, I could only think of one word that conveyed all those qualities… everything we learned.  there’s only one word that says it all, and I didn’t say it to play Captain Obvious…  “BlueMetal”  

Ok…  the cool-aid is either totally Stepford, or totally legit.

Given my experience with BlueMetal teammates in both the SharePoint AND Windows Phone Dev communities, before I ever had the opportunity to join… it’s not Stepford.

That said, I think the expected answer was “Mahan”, as in Mahan Khalsa, author of “Helping Clients Succeed” which plays an over-arching theme across the company.  Someone may have even said that, but I didn’t catch it. I still like my original answer.

This past spring I joined Jornata, mostly to shake up my career.  Jornata was/is a fantastic team to be a part of in its own right.  My prior experience with them in the SharePoint community was also first rate. 

I might have pursued a job at BlueMetal years ago on my own were it not for the daunting commute.

The winds of change clearly had more in store.

Now, I find myself thinking that BlueMetal really looks like the company I always had in mind to work for when I was teaching myself programming as a kid.. and I mean everything..  from its respected thought leaders to its community involvement to its extremely purposeful corporate structure…  being employee-owned…  I realize this team is top to bottom, front to back, enterprise ready, industrial strength, yet premium consumer quality… and they have my back. It will be my honor to have this team’s back.

I’m very much looking forward to settling into the new team, and really looking forward to digging in on a nice juicy app development project.  Duty to the customer has pulled me quite a bit toward infrastructure build outs… Being successful at those things has had the curse of being asked to do more of it. The further away from C# I get, the further I am from my true passion & real value add, and that doesn’t really cut it for me or my team, longer term.

so…  the commute sucks… but if that’s all I can think of to “complain” about…  I guess that’s what it takes to be “The Granite State Hacker”, for keeps.  (I’ll secretly blame NH politicians for making it so hard to find a sufficiently legit tech offices in NH, and work at home every chance I get.)

This marks a new chapter for my career, without a doubt, and I’m sure I’ll be inspired to blog deeper than what had become all too common Microsoft cheerleading posts.  (Now I can be a BlueMetal cheerleader, too!   ok…  I’ll try to refrain from geeking out about my team too much.) 

Tech in the 603, The Granite State Hacker

Candy Crush Saga Would Fail on Windows Phone

Several sites including and WMPowerUser are reporting that King has decided to not bring it’s popular Candy Crush Saga game to the Windows Phone ecosystem.  (It’s “on hold indefinitely”.)  I suspect Disney and Mojang have much more to do with this than Windows Phone’s market share.

Most sites reporting King’s changed stance cite poor growth of the Windows Phone ecosystem as the reason for putting Candy Crush for Windows Phone on hold.  I don’t believe them.

The news, of late, ironically, has been loudly about two things.  1)  after a lull while Nokia was absorbed by Microsoft, Windows Phone has significantly improved its market share in the past quarter or so.  2)  Microsoft bought Mojang.

The more likely reason:  (and I would love for King to prove me wrong, but…) I’m reasonably certain that if King released Candy Crush Saga for Windows Phone right now, it would fail… and I bet they know that.

I speculate that King has been holding their Candy Crush Saga app hostage from the Windows Phone ecosystem for some time, possibly hoping Microsoft would buy King in… a Mojang/Minecraft-like multi-billion dollar play. 

Clearly, Microsoft buying Mojang was a smart choice, since Minecraft has almost become a gaming platform of its own. There is a Minecraft community and ecosystem with many vendors producing products and supporting it for their own continued success.  I suspect that for those vendors, Microsoft buying Mojang will multiply Minecraft’s ecosystem success;  the ecosystem will be more broadly and more consistently available to more players.

King, on the other hand, is a one-hit wonder who’s core titles are fading as all titles do.

Candy Crush Saga’s fading brand isn’t the reason the title would fail on Windows Phone, however.  

The reason Candy Crush Saga would fail on Windows Phone is because Windows Phone has developed its own ecosystem, and King’s niche in that ecosystem has been filled by an even bigger fish…  namely Disney. 

Yes, Candy Crush Saga would have to compete with the likes of titles such as Frozen Free Fall and Maleficent Free Fall, which are both magnificent implementations of switch/match games that even I have burned some measurable amounts of time and real cash in.

To me, the message is clear.  King has made its bed. How embarrassing would it be for King to release it’s flagship titles to Windows Phone only to be shrugged off by the Windows Phone app market for the effort?  Especially after trying to leverage its brand to strong-arm Windows Phone.  Frankly, a failure like that could put King’s position in the iPhone and Android ecosystems at risk… which would bring potential value down in the eyes of, say, Apple or Google.

I suspect there are other app publishers facing similar choices.  Perhaps they have likewise made their beds. I believe the Windows Unified platform is the platform that successful iPhone and Android publishers can’t afford to fail on.  Such publishers have two choices 1) get in before a competitor fills their niche, (and succeed), or 2) watch and miss out while realizing in ever more clear hindsight over next decade that Windows Unified was the opportunity they wish they hadn’t written off.

[Edit:  1/8/2015 – So King has published Candy Crush Saga to Windows Phone 8, now, and I’m very pleased to see it… it’s one less reason for folks to avoid the Windows Phone platform deciding to make the switch or not.   Will the Windows Phone edition be successful?   By many measures of an app on a platform, it already is.   Will it be the success it was on other platforms in reasonable comparison?   That remains to be seen, and I still think my analysis is correct, but I think that King still held out for Microsoft to offer up some form of subsidy…  I notice that Microsoft has been shelling out for ads for Minecraft, and in those same ad spaces are lots of ads for Candy Crush, as well.]

Tech in the 603, The Granite State Hacker

Hedging Against The Risk of Becoming A Monopoly

First Microsoft with their late entry into the mobile market (and flubs leading up to it)… then Apple… now Facebook…  anyone notice that they kinda suck lately?  

Apple, clearly getting bored with it’s iPhone, is now turning its attention to it’s iWatch… which doesn’t make much sense to me;  I purposely gave up all other devices, including a wristwatch, in favor of a single unified mobile device.  It will take a lot to convince me to add a wristwatch back in, and I’m sure having to pay for it will be a deterring factor.   (Next thing you know, they’ll add electroshock notifications, and make it so that authorities will have the ability to lock it to the wearer’s wrist and cause it to electromagnetically bind to the nearest metal object in order to detain people… (but that’s another whole story)).

I’m always toying with social media, so when I ran across a Facebook post from an entrepreneurial acquaintance recently, wondering if his content was being suppressed, I had to check it out.   As an experiment, he posted a really cute puppy, and it picked up a fair number of responses.  His concern was that his regular posts were not getting the response he’d grown accustomed to.  To add yet more anecdote, there was recently a post on the New York Times’ blog about similar observations, tied to tweaks Facebook has made recently.  It seems posts that are engaging or paid for are prioritized, and posts that are not quite as popular are at best “deprioritized”.  It seems likely that even engaging posts tied to commercial products are likely suppressed unless paid for.  Anyone who dabbles in trying to build an audience through Facebook must pay or make sure their content is very engaging.   I like knowing about the books friends of mine are publishing.  I like knowing about their small mom & pop shop.  These posts are getting hidden from my newsfeed.  It’s not the most engaging stuff, but it’s part of what I use Facebook for.  Having this stuff drop off my radar makes Facebook start to suck more.  Yes, they want to make money, but I think there may be even more to it.

I digress.

But I have to ask…  with all the Big Data that companies like Apple, Intel, Microsoft, Qualcomm, Facebook, Google, and the rest have…  and rest assured, they have it… the analytics.  How can they really not recognize the things that are hurting their business? 

Is it intentional?

If modern history has shown us anything, it’s that free markets do not tolerate monopolies.  In every case, any time a company takes advantage of its own strength in the market, the market has pushed back, forcing one of a number of “bad” things upon the company.  Just about every global company has seen this.  I recall hearing about the Rockefeller oil breakup, but in our time, it was the Microsoft / Internet Explorer shakedown…. and there have been many others.

I long suspected the reason Linux existed and was not thoroughly stomped on by the powers that be (Microsoft) was to allow Linux to be a “competitor” in the market… something that would never have a unified corporate focus that could actually unseat Microsoft.  I know that Microsoft even supported some Linux components, which anecdotally supports my theory.  I’m sure they supported it as much as they felt they necessary in order to make sure Linux was a viable competitor.

When it became clear that Linux’s strength was flagging, a more corporate competitor became necessary.  It seems Apple filled that gap very nicely in the PC market for some time.

While Apple began to dominate the mobile market, Google stepped up to become a competitor there, partially because Microsoft wasn’t committed to the market space.  (It wasn’t enough of a threat to the PC market.)  Android has the same problems as Linux… too decentralized to be a lasting threat, so while Apple had it’s heyday and now lets itself slip in the market, Microsoft will target Google.  Eventually, I predict Apple and Microsoft will take turns with market dominance with Google there to provide another safety net.

So back to Facebook…  It seems like Twitter has become a haven for market bots, but not much more of real use to the average person.  Facebook’s power grew to near monopolistic levels over 2012, but I predict that Facebook will actually allow this unhappy situation to persist for entrepreneurial folks, encouraging them to explore Google+.  This leadership transference to Google+ will bolster Google+ as a competitor, enabling Facebook to remain free of  the shackles of being a monopoly.  I suspect they’ll both start taking turns with market dominance, but despite the market competition, I bet both will claim better results in their marketing campaigns, thus leading to higher advertising prices on both.

The nasty part, here, is that the reason for preventing and sanctioning monopolies is to prevent them from strong arming their markets.  Unfortunately, what it seems like we’re getting instead is very small oligarchies taking turns to be the dominant, but not quite monopolistic force in the market.  They take advantage of each other to develop brand loyalty which improves their profit margins and gives them near monopolistic power among their followers, yet they maintain their monopoly-free, unsanctioned status.

Tech in the 603, The Granite State Hacker

Time to Remodel the Kitchen?

A few good reasons to consider keeping your IT infrastructure up to snuff…

(I’m honored to have the post accepted & published on Edgewater’s blog.)  🙂