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  • Writer's pictureazurecoder

The Loser CTO Cycle

I felt compelled to write about this because it's a phenomenon I'm seeing more and more. Cloud and data is revolutionary because it's simple and available now and from our customers and potential customers we always get asked about skills. The skills focus has always been about people and certifications and whether Microsoft or other cloud providers are doing enough to help a next generation of talent with a next generation of skills.

All through our history we've had to endure bad technical leadership in our customers and partners. I've decided to call this the Loser CTO Cycle as it's a justification to lambast Microsoft for providing a poor cloud platform (which is Azure isn't - not on the whole at least). This hides the fact that organisations have made poor choices in technical leadership.

Some companies are on their third iteration of a cloud and data platform. Others have given up. These are said to be based on individuals, architects, software engineers and the lack of skills. It's become so commonplace now in data platform to make modern cloud data warehouse pattern synonymous with getting people who spent years build the "old" way, SSIS, BIM models and all of that stuff which was a slow train running and unable to be tested, to build the new data platforms.

So, we need to ask ourselves why is this phenomenon happening?

It's all down to the Loser CTO Cycle. This cycle is the most infuriating nonsense for consultancies like ours that aren't interested in "bums on seats" but want to build something meaningful. It's also annoying for Microsoft because the incompetence in many companies lengthens their sales cycles.

With Elastacloud, there is a eureka moment within a customer when they realise that all of their assumptions are wrong and that you can do amazing things in a week and you don't need to blame Azure or network throughput, or disk write speed and some other arcane nonsense for failures. We call this a hack and sprint and it delivers huge value for our customers because we know our patterns which are based on distributed computing and common sense.

I know, I know. Common sense. That's what many in technical leadership positions lack these days.

In the old world, you would be "promoted to the level of your own incompetence". When systems were siloed and you could do less damage by being incompetent this was fine as you couldn't bring down an organisational IT strategy in one fell swoop. Nowadays however with the promise of data lakes and centralisation of data controls it's easy to destroy from the top.

I call this cycle the Loser CTO Cycle and it's happening all over the place now. The evidence is striking for companies that have a cloud and data strategy. We've seen this cycle in 53% of our customers over the last several years and expect that number to go up.

It starts with a new CTO or technical leader that either thinks they understand enough about the cloud to implement someone else's strategy or a giant ego on legs that doesn't take advice and has flawed assumptions. There are several variations on the theme but the outcomes are the same in all cases, lack of delivery on just about everything. Some key themes to watch for.

  • Agile disguised as waterfall through multi-year strategies

  • Lack of coherent value shown to the business so no hack or swat teams purposed for incremental product wow moments

  • No real use cases for the data platform and no proper governance or liaising with real users

  • Years spent "ingesting" data

  • Inundated with governance boards of varying levels of complexity

  • 6-12 month design reviews by architects before pushing the button on anything

  • More people on the projects that can't code than can and lots of experts with the "I'm not technical but ...." syndrome

  • Bottom-up requirements rife driven by capabilities models

  • ....

Lots more, if you've experienced it, you'll know it.

Anyway, normally I just rant but I want to offer a solution to this because it's killing amazing opportunities for Elastacloud, companies with already great talent but not in the right things and cloud providers like Microsoft.


If a CTO is not able to build an end-to-end cloud-based data platform in a sprint and present back to a board and wow them don't give them the job! This goes at all levels of technical leadership where everyone from that company regards "data as the new oil". Leadership - YOU CANNOT TEACH THIS STUFF! You have to do it. That's how you learn in the cloud by doing. Long gone are the days where the Learning Trees and other training platforms are relevant in this space, you have to do and fail fast to learn and it's the only way to avoid this 2 year delayed cycle of nothingness but high cost and frustration. This is an oxymoron though which is the problem because we promote up based on age and experience but in this world it doesn't follow. Experiences need to be the right experiences and qualified.

I've seen a couple of instances recently of this happening so I've got some popcorn at the ready prepared to take my 53% number up a bit towards the middle of next year.

After over a decade of cloud in my professional career I've seen a bit of everything but I can also see that things aren't improving fast enough. Boards need to regularly review their CTO/CIO/CDO, all of the above, get an external party to review their skills and fitness to run an organisational cloud and data strategy that requires millions or hundreds of millions in investment. Boards, don't throw away your money, throw away your leadership earlier than the cycle dictates.

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