Accidental CTO, Reflections on Before and Since

Andrew Weaver
April 19, 2022

The latest instalment from Mostafa Khattab, CTO at Wakecap Technologies in Dubai and his “Diary of an Accidental CTO” aka “The Ahead of Schedule” CTO.

We’re grateful to Mostafa for taking time out of his busy day to send us regular thoughts on the learning curve he’s faced when transitioning quickly from the technical to the managerial. We know this chimes with many of you.

“I have tried to detail in these blog posts specific changes in my role as I took on the new, mighty status of CTO and the challenges I personally faced. This blog post I wanted to reflect on the key changes of like before and since I became a CTO.

When I think about the fundamental changes that took over my working life as an accidental CTO, it wasn’t directly about any change of tasks nor that my focus dramatically altered in what I was trying to do and achieve, but it was the real psychological impact of knowing that suddenly I was responsible for everything on the tech side of the business and of course and importantly, I was also now responsible for everyone in these technical teams.

Looking back that has definitely been the most challenging shift of mindset and for me, the steepest learning curve. Having to take ultimate responsibility.

When your focus in on building stuff then the first thing that comes into your mind at the start of each is to double down on .. What am I building today? My focus being around a fairly linear day of progress.

When you become a tech leader and particularly the most senior tech leader in your company, there are so many questions you need to consider and top of the queue are business critical ones.

Did anything go down during night?

Has there been any lost data or security breach?

Who might be throwing difficult questions at me today – team, customer or CEO?

And of course, what is the health and wellbeing of my team!

You can’t be selfish or introspective anymore though you do have to be careful not to focus completely away from the self and the risk of neglecting need to create your own time and space for leading and learning – something again, I’ve had to work out the balance for as I’ve gone along.

But there is a fundamental shift in what rises to the top of your daily “action list” with a need to be much more outward and people focused. No more days hiding behind that keyboard.

Because after you negotiate those early questions and alarms then much of your time will be spent with people, whether clients, partners, senior management or team.

I really didn’t appreciate how much of my time would be wrapped up in discussions and how much I needed to improve my communication and importantly, my listening skills.

You can be easily overwhelmed by the sudden demands on your time because one thing I know for sure about being a CTO, you’re always in demand whether talking with people about how we are going to offer our product and services, scaling strategies, hiring issues, liaising with customers and partners who might be willing to integrate with us etc. Efficient diary management is a must.

Did I mention this is a steep learning curve?

Before, I used to meet less with people and my day was based on that more easily defined and linear focus on technical progress. Any discussions in those less complicated days was about what we are trying to achieve and that was it, from there I started to go.

Now, I need to think about the bigger picture and how I bring multiple people and stakeholders along with me.

And another significant change is to make sure that we are progressing as a team in the way that we should and if we are not doing so, I need to know and report why. Before of course, you are more singular in your approach and your reporting is much narrower.

And finally, I reflect on the way that even the points of operational fun in your role change.

Before becoming a CTO I looked for fun in my general day to day tasks. I enjoyed writing code that worked and I used to enjoy fixing issues that no one else could fix. 

Today I have to remove myself from the code so it’s a good job I’ve really fallen in love with the more open problems of management and leadership, with the ambiguity and sometimes vague specifications – now I wouldn’t have expected to say that 2-3 years ago.

I see in myself the ability to adapt and build and grow into this role as a CTO and a critical part of that step change into a position of responsibility has been to view every new challenge in this role as part of the journey and to really enjoy it.

I have become increasingly comfortable in seeing ideas go back and forth, in encouraging that circulation of ideas and sometimes my solutions fail so that I give my team the space and time to build a better one. 

That’s part of the process of letting go, delegating which was not always easy before, but has started to feel much more natural now.

There are many other differences between the before and after in this role.

Sometimes you need to reflect what has changed in your day to day life to witness for yourself the progress you have made. These are the changes that have been important to me. Whilst the nuances of your character and company will be different, I suspect for those thrust unexpectedly into the CTO role these will be similar.

We would love to hear your story of the before and after you became an Accidental CTO.

Previous Articles from Mostafa : If you’re new to Mostafa’s blog then you can find all the previous articles on his experiences as an Accidental CTO in the CTO Academy Blog archive.

Want help with your own transition into a senior tech role? The CTO Academy sweet spot is working with recently appointed CTOs like Mostafa whether via our online courses, private coaching or group coaching. Find out more via the CTO Academy Website.

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