I’m fascinated by history, especially American history. Recently, I finished a book called Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy, about how a young United States established its maritime presence to protect its trade interests.
Back then, a naval officer could expect to climb the ranks after leading a mission to burn a captured ship, as Stephen Decatur did, for example, in Tripoli Harbor in 1804. Or he could ascend the ranks by taking command of and successfully sailing a commandeered enemy vessel to a friendly port.
And all officers sought captaincy of a vessel. A captain, at least in the early days, was a man in control of the destiny of his crew and his ship. He made decisions about where to sail, whether or not to run from or engage an enemy, where to set to port and what the crew should eat. All captains were capable seamen, understanding the mechanics of their ships, navigation, rules of engagement, strategic objectives of their governments, and how to manage a crew. Captains often led boarding parties when attempting to seize an enemy vessel with sword and pistol in hand. Respect of the crew was earned. The Captain, after all, was a sailor, just like them.
I recently entered the job market after leaving my position as CTO of popexpert. Before that gig, I spent five years climbing the corporate ladder at a company in San Diego, where I left with title of Senior Director of Software Development.
At one point I managed around 70 software developers and was responsible for the technology behind 12 products. I got very good at managing relationships, doing performance reviews, hiring, firing, and structuring teams. But I did not write code. I did not lead any boarding parties. By design, my job was to lead my crew from land, letting them sail without me. This, being in-line with the philosophy of accomplishing through others. Give them direction and trust the crew to execute. And career-ascension was dependent on my ability to do this well.
I had become a career manager. I had become better at managing politics and organizational structures than technology.
When a Google recruiter contacted me by phone, she asked me a total of zero questions about my time as Senior Director of Software Development. She was interested in my ability to sail a ship. She focused entirely on my time as CTO of popexpert.
I had the same experience with other companies, AirBnB, AngelList and GoldBely, among them. They were interested in my technical aptitude. How well could I code? How would I solve architectural problems? Could I do FizzBuzz?
I realized, through this experience, that technology companies (the good ones anyway) value technology leaders who are still good technologists. If you dis-engage with technology, like I nearly did, you are killing your career.