Goodbye CTO, Hello Technical Fellow

Hic sunt dracones - There Might Be Dragons.

Posted by Holger Reinhardt    on October 30, 2019 in Dev tagged with Culture

In the beginning of October 2019 I re-joined the Haufe.Group in the role of a Technical Fellow. Needless to say, there were a lot of questions why - as former CTO of Haufe - I would come back and work in the team of my successor Raul Firu. And what exactly that role of Technical Fellow would be about.

Looking back I think both Raul and I never quite gave up the thought that one day we would have a chance to work together and build awesome products (again). So when the chance presented itself, it was the question how, not if we would want to work together again. The starting point of our discussion about a possible role was the very inspirational blog post from Patrick Kua titled ‘Goodbye CTO, Hello Chief Scientist’ (from which I shamelessly stole the title of my blog post).

There are aspects of the CTO role which I love and would not want to miss: the opportunity to mentor and grow individuals and teams, the impact I can have on products, customers and markets, and working within organizations and their leaderships to align the culture, structure and technology to allow us to deliver. What I liked less were the inherent distance to execution and impact through the layers of hierarchy in large organizations and a calendar filled with meetings with little practical control over if I could attend or not.

From a Haufe perspective Raul was very clear that he would like to see me in an technologist and evangelizer role, serving both the tech community internally and representing Haufe technology to the outside. While a role of an evangelizer and technology scout comes very natural to me, I felt that my opinions (or some would say preaching ;) needed to be grounded not just in ‘desk research’ but in some form of operational responsibilities too. To be able to convince and challenge I had to not just ‘talk the talk’, but ´walk the walk´: to show that something is true by actions rather than words. On this cue - have I mentioned that I love building products? So we created a hybrid role which combines time-boxed operational responsibility in business undergoing transformational change with the role of mentoring, evangelizing and technology scouting.

But with the operational responsibility the term ‘Chief Scientist’ did not feel like a good fit anymore. So we came up with the title of a Technical Fellow.

What exactly does a Technical Fellow do? We settled on the following 3 areas (I quote from Raul’s email):

  • An operational but time-boxed role in technology transformation (following the principle of alignment of technology/structure/culture) for products or businesses going through a significant change.
  • Leveraging Holger’s natural evangelist skills: blog posts, presentations, trainings / up-skilling, presenting Haufe’s engineering culture externally.
  • Supporting the Group CTO and the business leadership in making significant or strategic decisions.

So in a nutshell, a Technical Fellow has small circle of control, but large circle of influence. (Which itself is a concept adopted from the book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which - if you haven’t read it - I highly recommened flipping through in the linked summary.) The role doesn’t just bring significant value to Haufe, but also plays to my core strength as passionate (product) builder and technologist.

I am very excited about this new role and its challenges, both professionally and personally. It is certain to force me to venture outside my comfort zone as former C-level executive. While there might be dragons ;) on that journey, I think growth is only found outside of the level of comfort. I do not think I can express it more beautifully than how Patrick said it in his blog post: “Here’s to embracing constant change, evolution and experimentation!”