How to be the worst CTO that you can be

You are the smartest person on the team and, likely, the founder. If not the founder, you are the one that was brought in to build the tech. You have total control of the infrastructure, the code, the engineers, and you hold the highest authority position in the company to say what can, should, and when it will be done. Under your terms. The way you like it.

Here are the best rules to live by to make sure people (and technology) is bending to your will:

1) Always hire people using yourself as the yardstick. You are 100. So make sure to hire between 80 and 90. These are the best that you can find.

2) You grew up in a specific social-economic background; learned programming in a unique way, and went to get a C.S. degree in a very specific college. It worked! Why risk it? Just find more people like you to fill in the team (but see #1 above).

3) Every time someone mentions any methodology or technology, just say it’s a piece of crap. Why waste time on those things if you know what works already?

4) Let’s be honest. Customers are stupid. If they knew what they needed, they would have built it already. You are here to tell them how they actually should work and your software will make them better.

5) Don’t let marketing or sales create their screenshots or descriptions of the product. Provide them fantastic high-res screenshots of your desktop at 2560×1440 that shows everything the product offer; actually, make it 3840×2160, so it looks good in print as well.

6) Work-life balance? Work-life harmony? Hah! Your life is your code. Your employees’ life is your code. Everyone loves that. That’s what the company culture is all about, bro!

7) On-the-job training! You learn how to swim by jumping the deep end of the pool. Training is for the weak. Books are for old people.

8) It’s not safe to have your developers working on critical components of the system. You are faster and better than them, so make sure you are in charge of building those features. Over time, you’ll see you will be even more equipped to do more of that.

9) Did we say no vacation? Oh, yes. On #6 already. If people ask for it, tell them to postpone. If they insist, roll your eye and say how this is an awful time to take time off. It will teach them! If you can do in front of the other employees, it will also help bringing everyone to the same page.

10) Do not, I repeat, do not let your employees get any credit for the work they did. Don’t allow them to contribute to open source projects, speak at conferences, or even attend meetups. It’s a ruthless world out there of other CTOs and recruiters just waiting to steal your employees. Protect them at all costs!

11) Employee feedback is in the form of rejected pull-requests. Which, combined with lines-of-code is the perfect metric to decide who gets a bonus. What can’t be measured can’t be improved!

12) Be patient with the designers and product folks. They are just stupid with their soft skills. So are marketers. Part of life. Ignore and build whatever the heck you want. If they ask, say it was too hard, or the thig-a-ma-jig wasn’t compatible. They are stupid and won’t understand anyway.

12) Give special attention to the CEO. Don’t let him under any circumstances talk about the product. They will just miss the nuances of your amazing new email dispatch system you built so you can prove that you can build what Sendgrid has. Which brings me to the next point.

13) SaaS is expensive! Build it yourself. Sendgrid is called SMTP, and it’s free. You can hack Twilio by using the carriers SMTP gateway (for free!). Bootstrap or Foundation? Just a stupid collection of CSS. Mixpanel and Intercom? Ridiculously easy to build. NewRelic or DataDog? It’s called log files! Stripe? No, thank you. I’ll build my own gateway.

14) Open Source is awful. Do you know how many open source projects are abandoned every year? Do you really want to depend on a code that no one is maintaining anymore? What about the security vulnerabilities they find on those Linux subsystems? See, all Open Source. Build it yourself or find a safe vendor that has a product that costs at least $100K / year in license fees for the on-prem installation. That’s the sign of a solid solution.

15) And, remember. You are building a true meritocracy. It doesn’t matter your employees’ gender and race. Those who work the hardest and contribute the most (lines-of-code) are they ones that will be recognized! Surprise: it’s you!

I might get some hate comments on this, but it’s a satire (nowadays you have to make that explicit), and there are some cases where some of the things I said are not completely correct. SaaS can be expensive, but that’s not the only parameter to evaluate. Open Source can be awful, but some are great. And, sometimes building your Analytics, Responsive Web framework, or SMTP systems does make sense.

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Marcelo Calbucci

Marcelo Calbucci

I'm a technologist, founder, geek, author, and a runner.