In this #mtpcon Digital APAC
session, Silvia Thom, CTO at Zalora, reveals her journey from product manager to CTO. She describes challenges she faced, the opportunities she uncovered and offers advice for product managers hoping to undergo a similar move.
- Leading engineers without a technical background is doable — be prepared to ask lots of questions, and ask for help when you need it
- Creating a technical vision for a business is hard — understanding the needs of the business is key here
- To prioritize technical debt, lean on product managers and technical leads for guidance
- Product managers can already talk about business and how it relates to technology, this will help you to bridge the gap between business and technology
Watch the video to see the session in full or read on for the highlights.
Challenge #1: Am I technical enough?
Silvia never thought she would be wearing the CTO hat during her career. Still, after serving as a product manager at Zalora, she eventually took on the role of CTO and was responsible for the product team, engineers, data analysts, and the company’s technical infrastructure.
The first challenge Silvia discovered was figuring out how to lead engineers without a technical background. While she didn’t have much coding experience, Silvia could use the fact that she was already quite familiar with the tech stack to her advantage.
Additionally, being inquisitive and asking for help from her technical counterparts made things easier. “So I work a lot with my tech leads and ask a lot of questions. Why do you pick one technology over the other? Does it make sense? Is it in line with the product? Is it in line with business goals that we’re trying to achieve?” she said.
Challenge #2: How can I lead a tech team?
Silvia's second challenge was discovering how to lead a tech organization and manage the people working there while conducting her duties as a CTO.
Strategy and execution
As a CTO, strategy, and execution required Silvia to help create a technical vision for the company. With her previous project management experience, Silvia was able to handle this aspect of the job because she already understood the needs of the business.
Organizing the tech team was a bit more complex. Still, it did provide the opportunity to design a product-led organization consisting of cross-functional squads, with the project manager leading one of those squads.
The most challenging aspect of the job was hiring due to the difficulty of finding senior technical talent in any capacity.
Tech stack and scalability
Managing the system architecture was another challenge of leading a tech team. However, Silvia found this could be overcome by relying on the expertise of tech leaders and participating in discussions with them.
Challenge #3: How to balance technical debt with business growth
The final challenge Silvia encountered was balancing technical debt with business growth. As product managers, it can be common to fall in love with creating the next best business experience. However, this can sometimes lead to more issues in the role of CTO. The solution Silvia found was to use product managers and technical leads to help prioritize how technical debt should be handled.
Opportunity #1: Business knowledge in the boardroom
Product managers already know how to talk about business and how it relates to technology. They can bridge the gap between business and technology, whereas traditional CTOs, on the other hand, need more time to get there.
Opportunity #2: One team, one dream
As the CTO, Silvia found less alignment was required when working with the product leader in her new role as a tech leader. Given her own experience leading the product team, this helped eliminate conflict and gave everyone a sense of ownership.
The key takeaways from this session are that nothing remains the same within the career of a product manager, and change is the only constant.
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