/ 6 min read
School of the Future CTO - An interview about Tech Leadership
posted on April 20, 2020
Celus took part in a project in collaboration with Yandex. Cloud and Phoenix.Education. Yandex.Cloud is known as the main cloud provider in the Russian market and Phoenix.Education is a private school, where people can sharpen their talent in a project based advanced training.
The aim of this project was to give junior developers an opportunity to create an IT project from scratch and to gain some insights on what it means to be a CTO. The project was 100% online based and held via Zoom.
The teams received an aspiring task, which they had to tackle. We had 26 participants on our track and they worked in teams of 5-6 people and developed a Minimal Viable Product (MVP) with the guidance of their mentors. Since the projects are supposed to challenge the participants and let them be creative, the tasks were quite ambitious.
Celus' task was about building a data sheet search engine from scratch. This included two main aspects:
- Users can upload PDF data sheet via API or a Web Application User Interface
- Users can search for specific information from those data sheets using names and tags
All images and tables matching the given tags should be returned via an API or displayed on the Web Application Interface.The project ended today and the results are astounding.
Our CTO and Co-Founder Alexander Pohl was interviewed by Alice Gozina-Plekhanova from Phoenix.Education, a private school for advanced training.
Below you'll find the complete interview.
Instead of asking "When is the right time?" start with"What do I want to do?"
Alexander Pohl is a Co-Founder and CTO at the German startup Celus. What makes him so inspiring is the belief, that even if something doesn't exist yet, it doesn't mean that's impossible. You just need to be the first one to find the solution. From zero to one.
The Celus Company creates tools based on complex algorithms and AI for electronics engineering. Anyone could launch their own product without spending a lot of time for manual energy-consuming work. The company was founded in 2016, when everyone in electronics development industry was persuaded that the process should be that long. Alex and the other Co-Founders didn't believe that this needs to be true, kept going and succeeded.
But that story started for him way earlier than the actual year of foundation and we while we talked we learned some more about his approach and vision of the CTO, career and life.
How did anyone can become a CTO?
Everyone's path is different. I never planned of becoming a CTO, but I wanted to build things.If engineering counts, I started at the age of 8. But all people are different: when I hire someone for the team, I don't expect him to start at some specific age.
I would also define two very different paths: Being a CTO in a big telecom company established 100years ago, especially if this is an aerospace or automotive industry, or being a CTO in a startup. I can speak for the second as I am the founder of a company. If you go this way, the first step is a declaration. Moreover, you don't know whether success comes later or not and that depends on many factors. When you found a company you know that there are things you want to handle in the world. You commit yourself to certain things. There are also about twenty different areas that you need to share among the team – tech, marketing and sales, legal, team and so on. Tech and money are the most important ones. So, if you are into tech, you become a CTO by extension, as our mentor says.
When you grow, roads get more defined. But the whole point is that you want something to be done, do it and then find out it is labelled as being a CTO.
When do you think is the proper time to found your own company? Can you graduate and declare yourself a CTO right away?
There is no such thing as the proper time. Having more experience is always good but if you are 12 and you know what you want to do it still might work out. I did it after getting two master's degrees and then I started my own company. It was an awesome experience. Anyway, you'll be learning a lot. The right question about founding a company is not "When is the right time?" but "What do I want to do?" .That's the only question you should ask yourself. If you have the feeling there is something you want to change in the world, just go out and change it.
Everything else is a secondary factor. Time is changing anyway, so don't wait. Waiting is the worst thing you can do.
What was your answer to the question "What do I want to do" when you started a company?
There were multiple factors. One of them was that I had a feeling that the world has so many awesome technologies and a very limited amount of people who can use them. I wanted to change that. I wanted to make life easier for people. Therefore I wanted to give them some tools to deliver electronics to the market that support sustainability. Actually, that is the mission and main purpose of our company.
It is not to say that there is one proper motivation, of course. There is no right or wrong. I've seen people who dreamed of getting rich or becoming famous. And that also works.
Some people are inspired by the idea of building a great company and environment for people and customers or the amount of impact they can make. I think this one also works for me as well.
Do you check motivation when hiring?
Yes, when we hire, both soft and hard skills are extremely important. If you don't meet the tech requirements, it's a no go. We also check motivation as it contributes to culture fit. You need to be really careful and precise to find someone who behaves and sees certain topics the same way as you do. For us, there are sustainability, progress and respect. We share a very open feedback culture in our team. This requires everyone to participate and respect each other. Therefore these are very important qualities we are looking for in new candidates.
What questions do you use to find that out?
People are different and I don't expect them to have some particular answer. Our hiring process is clearly structured. The first step is a tech interview. In general I like people to kind of surprise me. I have my guidelines for the tech questions I ask and if they come up with a solution that I hadn't seen, I really like it. But this is much more subjective and straight-forward. Besides, we just talk to a person. It turns out to be a natural conversation with our HR, CEO and myself. There's no magic formula. You develop a feeling of the best judgment that this one fits well or not. For example, being very eager to research is an important quality for working in a startup. Working independently means a lot in an environment, where constant change surrounds us. When you are a young specialist asking a lot of questions is a good thing, but, at first, you need to try your own ideas.
Creativity and openness to new things, as well as being able to identify opportunities out of very little information is something which is crucial for us. We need creative solutions for new challenges. High Tech environments usually deal with complex things. You can't just google this information and find the solution on Wikipedia. Every persons thought process is unique, but I believe that with hard work and dedication this kind of creativity can be achieved over time. And then if you are looking into motivation, usually what is important to us are those sparkling eyes of excitement, when it comes to a certain topic and you can feel that they are passionate about it. When people kind of engage in what you do, what you want to deliver in the world and what you want to change. That's a very good fit.
What is the difference between the mindset of a developer and a CTO?
It's not a creative mindset or solving problems. I believe, that when you develop, you deliver innovations to the world and you are focused on tech. No matter if you are a Junior or a Senior developer. The main difference is, that a tech lead is way more engaged with the team and people. He has leadership skills and he knows how to empower his Co- Workers and make sure to provide the work environment needed for them to thrive. If you move up the ladder, you deal more with the environment and governmental regulations and soon. Obviously the higher you go, the more responsibility you get. It never gets easier and there's always more.
If you want to move up faster, do you think that mentoring helps?
We had mentors all the way. That helps grow. But one thing you need to remember is, that it is always you who does the work. No one can make you solve your problems. You need to decide "I want to become this, no matter what". Mentor scan help you to make up a plan, but they won't do the work for you. Be clear and browse your options and do it whatever it is. That's not "one size fits all".
What beliefs should you form which define the mindset of a person who changes the world?
The first thing is that you should always define your opinion and listen to yourself, focus on your goals and beliefs.Think about what you want to change in the world. Don't just follow people blindly. The second point is you should remember that everything around you was built by people. If you check the videos of ElonMusk or Steve Jobs, they all share this idea that you simply go out and do what you think needs to be done. Try to think about the future you want to live in. What do you want to see there what you don't see now? Try to find people inspired by this idea even if that's flying to another galaxy. Try to have an impact and look beyond what you are doing today.
Do you contribute to the professional community life? Why do you do it?
Yes, I attend meet ups and conferences. It is a chance to learn new things. It is not that you will learn something entirely new all the time, but you are likely to hear about something from another perspective and then you can research the topic afterwards if you need.
You will meet new people. What is also important – it is fun!