Hopes and Dreams of a new CTO

On Friday 1/19/2018, I got a new role in IBM services as the CTO for North America.

It was an honor and privilege leading the CBDS business and I am very grateful to our team and our clients for a very fulfilling time. Pat Eskew and Rafi Ezry will lead it to greater heights and I look forward to working with them and cheering on the team every step of the way.

There are a few people to explicitly thank specifically for this new adventure I am embarking on. First, my boss Ismail Amla who runs services for North America for his trust in me. Second, my uncle Dr Krish Pillai who gave me his computer and the Dennis Ritchie book on C, when I was in eighth grade. I learned BASIC on that computer to code video games and had a huge collection of custom games on cassettes. And I struggled through the K&R book line by line till C became how I think of logic. Third, Prof Kalyanaraman who taught me statistics in Business School – he bridged the gap between math, computing and business for me.  I owe a huge gratitude for my parents who never questioned or hesitated in finding ways to support my varied interests , even when times were REALLY hard. And it goes without saying – more people than I can list here have helped me and continue to help me. Please know that you have my sincere gratitude and I will continue to seek your guidance.

I have some hopes and dreams about the journey ahead of us.

What I would like us to do for our clients is to be a champion for technology minimalism and simplicity. 

Technology has become incredibly sophisticated over time, and unfortunately also quite complex. On top of that there is the constant noise on hype. Every category of tech is a trillion dollar opportunity if you believe the analyst reports. This complexity and hype leads to clients not being able to use the sophisticated tech to solve their biggest problems. Instead – best case they get stuck in endless proofs of concepts, and worst case they stay still and risk becoming irrelevant for their customers.

Its very rare that any one technology is going to add value by solving a big problem. It usually takes the convergence of multiple technologies to arrive at meaningful solutions. This comes with the risk of over engineering , low speed of execution, and a real danger of designing a brilliant solution that can’t change on a dime when market changes. Striking a balance between all these is where engineering meets art.

I have a degree in engineering and business. And though not by design – I had a career where I had one foot each in tech and business. Growing up as a developer and later as an architect, I absolutely enjoy tech for the sake of tech – and I am not ashamed of it in the least.  But with roles in delivery, sales and general management,  I equally appreciate that in enterprise software, no one cares about tech that does not make or save money for our clients. Bringing biz and tech together – discussing the art of the possible, providing reality checks on emerging tech, ethics and trust issues that come with tech, connecting clients with each other and with ecosystem partners, building business cases to justify investments , debating usability of code for humans and machines etc are all things I look forward to working with clients on.

End of the day, its not what we make that is important – its what we make possible for our clients !

I would love for us to be known as the team that our clients depend on for solving their unknown unknowns  

We have an amazing team with a multitude of backgrounds, skills and experiences. Thanks to the opportunity to work with clients across several industries and solving a variety of problems, we know several common problems and also the solutions for those. That minimizes the risk of reinventing the wheel, and maximizes the execution speed.

But that is just the starting point – we need to be able to help uncover problems and opportunities that are not well defined yet. For any given problem – I have no doubts we have the skills to solve it. But a problem is only as good as how it is defined – simply because solutions depend on how a question is asked. The speed with which the world around our clients is progressing – we need to feel comfortable with the unknown unknowns, asking better questions and constantly striving to iterate towards better answers. Technology might not even be the lone answer for many questions – it could be a change in process or people.

This needs us to keep learning, and teaching each other  – broadly and deeply. Tomorrow belongs to the polymaths ! A very wise leader told me once that learning is like breathing – you just can’t stop. I plan to actively continue with our learning initiatives – both as a student and as a teacher/sponsor. The world of technology consulting is changing quickly , and in quite disruptive ways. I hope and dream for us to be on the right side of this change.

On the personal front, there are two things I am committed to this year . First is to exercise more . And after procrastinating for over a decade, I finally signed up with a personal trainer yesterday. I told him that I will hold him responsible for my success in my new role since I will need a lot of energy and strength .  He nodded, and there is a possibility that he may have rolled his eyes 🙂

The second is to teach programming to my daughter, to supplement the class she has started . Today I helped her with some nested conditional logic. She was impressed for about 10 seconds and then started telling me that such complex code is useless because she won’t be able to remember later the reason for writing it and none of her friends will get it . A part of me is proud that she immediately realized something about the big picture that took me a few years as a developer to get . And the other part of me is wondering if I have it in me to keep up with this despite my resolution . I see a lot of eye rolls in my future 🙂

 

(Cross-posted @ Vijay's thoughts on all things big and small)

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General Manager of AI,Analytics,IOT and Watson Health for North America in IBM GBS . Proud Alum of University of Kerala . Geek, Engineer , Blogger and dog lover . Previously senior executive at SAP and MongoDB.