What is a Fractional CTO with Morgan Craft

Published on Mar 28, 2022

32 min read

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In this interview, I speak with Morgan Craft, a fractional CTO in NYC and founder of gitBabel. We discuss what a fractional CTO is, how someone can become one, the challenges, the business of being a fractional CTO, including how much money engineering leaders can make doing it. Morgan also shares some great advice on running a consultancy business and a startup, working with startups, time management, and book recommendations.

Transcript

[00:00] Vidal: Good morning today with me. I have Morgan Craft. Uh, Morgan is a fractional CTO. Morgan, would you like to introduce yourself to Managers Club?  

[00:10] Morgan: Yeah. So I’m Morgan Craft. I’m a sort of full stack developer, 20 years of sort of building software, primarily in the New York City area, a bunch of different startups.

Still stayed hands-on. I sort of moved into engineering leadership midway through my career. Ran a team of React developers transitioned to a CTO role at a Y Combinator startup that was doing ed technology sold that to a private equity firm and then moved on to create my own startup and fell into this fractional CTO consultancy that I started up.

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What is a fractional CTO / fractional VP of Engineering?

[00:39] Vidal: So I’ve heard this term a lot maybe other people have too, “a fractional CTO, fractional VP of engineering.” What is that exactly?

[00:48] Morgan: Yeah, and I think it’s a common question I have from folks and I think what’s helpful to differentiate is um, typically it’s a senior engineering leader that comes into a small startup or even small sort of companies that don’t have previous senior technology, leadership.

And so typical they may have some developers, but they actually don’t have someone there managing the technical process, ensuring delivery, security, there’s a whole handful of sort of other business and operational tasks that you need an engineering leader to take on.

And in some cases, the engineers don’t want that job. A lot of them are there and they wanna focus on feature development and doing larger initiatives are not what they want to do. So that’s typically what I do um, is like come into these organizations and I just sort of fill in with whatever challenges they have.

[01:34] Vidal: How did you end up being a fractional CTO?

[01:39] Morgan: well, it’s funny is I fell into it because I was a CTO. And then when I left to start my own company ended up like bootstrapping and not raising money. And I started then to do consultancy on the side. And just even as I think — I was doing code reviews for someone like come in, mentor developers, do code reviews. And after being on a few standups, the CEO is kinda “wait, could you just be our CTO?” And I’m kinda like I gotta startup. I have partners like I can’t just leave. But I’m happy to be your fractional CTO. And then that’s when I realized, I could do this! And as time went on, I learned that this is a thing there’s actually other fractional CTOs out there doing this. Sometimes they refer to it as CTO as a service. But in my case, I have evolved the calling it like this fractional CTO business.

What do you like about being a fractional CTO?

[02:23] Vidal: What do you like about being a fractional CTO?

[02:27] Morgan: I would say probably what I like most about it is the sort of the freedom to have my own sort of balance and boundaries. So I’m capable to set the hours I wanna work. When I wanna work. What teams and technologies I wanna work with. I think that’d be probably the largest part of it is the exposure to the technology. So I have a broad, so some folks, right? If you work at a company you’re working with the technology they have in house. Where I am exposed to all kinds of different stacks. Some of my newer clients that are startups, they’re working with other startups. So even seeing behind the scenes of what’s going on with these new sort of payment systems, blockchain, e-commerce. Essentially every industry is getting disrupted by technology constantly.

And so seeing what are the hot new trends. It’s has been amazing. Like you don’t have that I think in a lot of other opportunities.

What are some of the biggest challenges that your clients face?

[03:18] Vidal: So it’s so interesting. All right. So, you’re working with all these different startups on like cutting-edge stuff. What are some of the biggest challenges that your clients face?

[03:26] Morgan: It would range. I think fundamentally at the top of it all staffing and recruiting are always challenges when I go into an organization, whether that’s we need to hire developers. We’re trying to figure out our roadmap, like who do we hire? How do we hire them? If you’re not sort of at a large company with deep pockets, hiring developers is even more challenging than I think it ever was.

And so there’s just those challenges around how do we get developers here? Who do we get? How do we actually sell them on our mission and sort of those positioning aspects? And I would say the other big challenge that a lot of my clients have is just the overall accountability and ownership of delivery within their organization. So depending on if they don’t, in my example earlier, like not all of them have a senior leader in place, so typically they might be outsourcing and they’re just not seeing the returns of the money they’re putting in this team. And it’s because there’s no one fundamentally providing leadership and ensuring that the delivery process is in place.

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So I think that’s also another big challenge that I help my clients solve. I’d say the last piece is even around product planning, product grooming. A large part of my CTO background was, I took over product at a small startup when I was there as the CTO, just when you’re the CTO, you take a large ownership of product and then being able to drive that roadmap for an organization is incredibly helpful as well, especially being about to speak to the engineers and really help, the rubber meets the road, like, how are we implementing this? How are we planning? Like how do we understand our capacity? And then creating alignment with the team? Because typically you could have non-engineering folks saying we’re gonna have these things built in a month and it’s just that’s not realistic.

Like it’s going to take at least six to eight weeks. You can’t do it in four weeks. So it’s those conversations and setting those expectations.

[05:13] Vidal: So I’m assuming like some of your clients, they have non-technical founders then, right? So that’s a value that you provide since you’re a senior technical leader.

 Now talking about you…. What are some of the biggest challenges you face working as a fractional CTO?

What are some of the biggest challenges you face working as a fractional CTO?

[05:27] Morgan: Yeah, it falls into two sort of categories. There’s the external challenges that I have with the clients and then my internal challenges I’ll speak on some of the external ones first.

And then those would just be getting rejected by the culture. I mean, like my value system for who I am as a leader you know, might not map to what their value systems are. And so when you parachute into an organization it’s making sure it’s not hostile. And I think one of the biggest challenges you can have is you gotta be able to put yourself out there.

You need to be mindful about what it is that you’re looking to achieve. I think one thing I like to talk about is ego and it’s really, you know, being able to accept that it’s gonna be hard. You’re gonna make mistakes. You’re not gonna know things, being able to ask questions and not feel like you’re an idiot or an imposter.

Cause you had to go into these organizations and really sort of, you know, figure out the business, figure out what your impact is going to be and how you create lasting value. So those are just some of the external challenges you’ll have within their organization, as you embed yourself.

Cause you know, as being a fractional CTO, that’s essentially what you do is you embed yourself into this team to a degree. I think then one of the larger challenges is then internally how do you do this for multiple clients because at any given time, I’ve had up to four clients. I’ve spoken to other folks who have more clients, but they build a team which is like a separate challenge, but there’s a lot of challenges just in how you handle multiple clients and what that sort of looks like.

[06:54] Vidal: All right. This is really interesting. I used to work as a consultant for a while. And one thing I realized going into these organizations and things were often like messed up. And I came to realize that’s why they hired you because things are messed up. Yeah. Yeah.

And so they shouldn’t be perfect or they wouldn’t need you, but yet yeah. You also have to be careful cuz if you point out too many things that are wrong like you say, you can get rejected by the culture.

[07:17] Morgan: Yeah.

[07:18] Vidal: So that’s a very difficult balancing act you have to do.

[07:21] Morgan: Yeah. And I think one of the things that I found is going in and not blaming people. Like you never wanna play the blame game. And if you ever run like an RCA process like a cause analysis, you know, after something catastrophic happens in a system, I think in some sort of engineering leaders is going to run that conversation around ” look, we’re not blaming folks. What we’re looking to do is be objective. How do we prevent at this from happening again? How did we get here? “

And I think oftentimes it’s what it is to come into an organization and it’s to really look at it. Figure out what is working, what is not. And let’s not blame folks for what is not working. And instead, let’s figure out how to, I think one of the things that I try to do is how do I model good behavior essentially, to correct some of these I guess some of these, some of the things that are being done in the organization, right to kind of maybe create a healthier culture. And I think, to so much of this, about culture, and creating different types of cultures within an organization.

And for me personally, I prefer learning cultures. And so it’s all about like, how do I create collaboration? How do I create safety among the people on the team? Again, going back to don’t blaming folks. And then at the same time, how do I remove ego from folks within the organization? I think we’ve all been an organization or you have some developer who just has a little bit of an ego.

Maybe they want credit for things or they think things should be a certain way. And I think it’s like figuring out how do we like change that within an organization. And lead in a different context. So I think those are some of the challenges that you can face in this space, essentially.

How do you manage the context switching and your time with your clients?

[08:56] Vidal: I think that’s really good how you described it. I wanna follow up on the second part that you said. So how do you manage the context switching and your time with all these clients? Because I find just being on a single engineering team can often be overwhelming for people. And you’re like on four different people’s engineering team.

[09:14] Morgan: Yeah. Yeah. I would say one thing. Email is a no. I get myself embedded in their Slack channel and I’ve learned being in their Slack is better. I used to know this investor that like email is someone else’s problem. And this idea, right, that like people, they send you their to-do list in an email?

So I try to stay out of emails because there’s no way I could do this if I had everybody emailing me. So a lot of my communications comes from Slack. Standups they can go both ways. So part of it is that I run standups. And so what’s great about running a standup for someone is that I’m facilitating it.

It can be exhausting if you’re doing them all the time. Especially if you do three back-to-back by like running three stand-ups, back-to-back and context switching every like 30 minutes, 15 to 30 minutes can get bananas, but you do get to internalize a lot what is going on in the organization cause you are facilitating a standup.

The good chunk of it is that like I’m loading a board, right, with some stories, looking at the pull requests, and playing matchmaker. So it does allow me to constantly keep and maintain the context because I think the biggest challenge is getting the context and then maintaining it over a period of time and being good at that, but I’m not gonna lie it can be exhausting. And I would say for like what I do, in some ways I’m selling Zoom calls. And I think even for me now I am pulling a little back like four clients is too much. I can kinda do one or two comfortably.

And the other piece to all this is that I do run a startup on the side. I have my own startup I’m running so that is also another client effectively on top of this all. And so the challenge then becomes managing all that. But I would say like the biggest piece from how I organize everything I do it’s around documentation. So like one of the things and going back to the learning culture idea is how do I get the folks within the organization to document the context? Because that’s how I get my context is through documentation and what I’ve now kinda labeled as microdocs. At the heart of it, things like pull request descriptions of GitHub. If I get into a pull request and it says no description, that’s like the worst moment for me in my day, because I’m like, I just, I got 5,000 lines to go look at.

I would say the biggest piece from how I organize everything I do it’s around documentation…. Because that’s how I get my context is through documentation and what I’ve now kinda labeled as microdocs.

And I got no description. Like, how do I test this? How do I verify it? What is this actually changing? Like they build four endpoints and there’s changes to the UI and oh, and there’s auth changes, right? This thing needs tested and it’s making sure that information is getting communicated to me so I have that context. So a lot of that is just building those systems. So it’s part of then I’m helping organizations shape the way they show their work so that I can actually come in and easily get context and establish what needs to happen. So I think that kind of goes into how I manage this. It’s part of what I do is I build those systems into it.

[] Vidal: Wow. So that’s really interesting. So there’s no emails?

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[] Morgan: Email is for invoicing. Not gonna lie. People, you can send me emails, but I’m just upfront with people, be like, oh, I sent you an email and I’m like “don’t send emails.”

Email is for invoicing. Not gonna lie.

Like still Slack me and, but then I spend my whole time in Slack. I’ll check my personal emails here and there, but for the most part, I’m like email. It just, it gets insane. Cause I have an email account with every company, like I have, at a given time I have five, six Gmail accounts.

Cause at the end of the day you want the Gmail account. So you can get oauth into all their systems. Cause you don’t want it all on your personal Gmail. And then it just becomes I’m like can’t send me emails. Like it just gets too confusing for me.

[12:28] Vidal: But don’t you get overloaded cuz like in Slack too, like you must have so many DMs?

[12:34] Morgan: Yeah. I mean, I’m not gonna lie. It’s hard. and that’s why I’m, and that’s why I’m like, there is this piece around all this and that I’m a solo artist and that’s how I chose to build this fractional CTO consultancy. And that it’s just me. So I don’t have a band so to speak, and that’s, and I’ve chosen that because there’s pros and cons to both and I could go into those.

But the one piece is that I can manage the number of clients I have and at the end of the day the folks that are mainly messaging me are the CEOs. Like the developers can message me and that’s fine, but I mean, they can, they, you know, realistically, it’s I’ll get back to you when I get back to you.

Like I shouldn’t be a blocker and that’s also probably part of this to realize I don’t take on contribution work. So I’m not writing code. And since I’m not writing code or blocking folks, it kinda takes me outta the picture. There’s no reason like my not answering right away should block work necessarily.

And again, a lot of my conversations are with the CEOs or the executive teams around what, they wanna talk, we’ll get on a call, and everybody knows calendy is the other big thing. Everything goes through a calendy for me and that sort of, I make everybody book times. If it’s not on my calendy I’m not gonna make it possibly.

How much can someone make as a fractional CTO?

[13:46] Vidal: So how interesting. So I’m curious if you could share like there could be some other senior engineering leaders that listen to Managers Club or follow it who might wanna be a fractional CTO one day? It sounds like an interesting, new career. So could you just say, how much can someone make being a fractional CTO? If you could say what are they, what does it go for? Just like rough numbers.

[14:10] Morgan: I’m happy to go into numbers. I would first caveat this whole concept with realizing a fractional CTO is a consultancy. It’s a business. So at the heart of it, you’re going to build a business.

If you go this path and the difference between building a business versus working at a large company. A large company is gonna pay you X amount. So let’s say, this audience, I’m assuming engineering leaders, managers you’re gonna make between 150, 180 all the way up to 250, 300.

If you’re a large company you might have a stock grant or some sort of employee purchasing plan for stock, right? Which gives you an additional, let’s say 50 or 80 K in bonuses and whatnot. And so you’re gonna make that. And that could be guaranteed unless, not to take a shot at Facebook, but their stock is struggling.

So if you’re an engineer there, like you’re gonna take a hit and that’s the risk you take where at a company, but you don’t get paid your salary where, when you’re doing the fractional CTO work, it’s unbounded. It’s really how much do you want to work? How much hustle do you want to have? But there’s no cap.

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And if you think about it, you’re gonna build a business so you build value over time. So what you make one year you’re gonna make most likely more the next year and you continue to grow it and you own this thing. It’s yours. So I would say when you start to then think about what are the numbers? As I mentioned, an engineering manager can make that 150 you’re looking at 90, I think 90 an hour would get you at 175. So I think for someone looking to get started in this space, you could easily bill that 125, 150 an hour. And that starts to put you at 200, 225, in a salary.

Realize that you’re not maybe working the 40 hours, you’re gonna only maybe be working 30 hours a week, maybe a hundred something a month, but, or you could just be like, I’m gonna work 20 hours a month and, but bill $200 an hour and there are people out there that. On these fractional CTOs that say they make $300, $400 an hour. I don’t know if that’s true or not. If that is, you’re getting up there because here’s the thing. I’ve billed some rates for different things. I actually worked as a CEO for a while, like an interim CEO, and I could bill a little bit more, but I’m like, I’m the CEO so they can bill a little bit higher.

So I would say not to get dissuaded about what you charge hourly. Cause in fact getting started, that’s what you would do, but ultimately the goal is you build retainers. And that’s what I’ve started to learn now is that I don’t charge hourly anymore. I charge retainers. What you wanna do or create what they call value-based retainers.

And it’s structuring something, not around hours, but about the value and impact you bring. And so one of my recent clients. The way I negotiated the retainer was around. They get me for this time slot, right during the day. And these are the things I’m going to be doing for them and nowhere in it do I talk about how many hours I’m working. It’s just this is the outcomes. This is the value I bring. And this is how much I charge for that. And so what that ends up doing is it opens the doors around how, you know, again, like this idea, like you make however much money you can make.

If you think about it, there’s no limit. It’s just how many hours, like how much value do you wanna try and sell and how much do you wanna balance? Do you want four clients or do you want two, and so it frees you up then to do other things, essentially.

[17:21] Vidal: I think that’s really great. You were telling me earlier about these value retainers.

So like you’ll have a package, for example, I’ll run your standup five days a week, right? And it’s just like a flat fee for the month. Yeah, right? Yeah. You want stand-ups run, you, go on. You want this other thing? Whatever. So I think that’s a very interesting model. If someone was interested in becoming a fractional CTO, how would they get started doing this?

How would they get started if someone was interested in becoming a fractional CTO?

[17:47] Morgan: It’s a great question. And I would add to it because I’ve had folks ask me this along with I’m not a CTO. I’ve never been a CTO. Can I do this? Can I be a fractional CTO? And my answer is, yeah, I think anyone can do this, but there is a caveat you have to learn. And I think it’s like anything in this world you have to do it there, you can’t fake it till you make it.

I think in some ways, I mean, you can a little bit. And so I think folks looking to get started the big question that it’s at the core of is can you, lead a team? Because you have to be able to do that. You have to be able to have leadership capabilities, meaning you can have developers execute and deliver. And whether that’s you’re helping them, that’s fine. But you can’t fake this in the sense that like I can run a team and get delivery and then not ever deliver essentially. You’re not gonna keep your job doing this if you can’t at least get things delivered, but do you have to let’s say ship some big crazy app. No, you know, one of my first clients, the way I structured it was, they had spent some money on a project. Let’s say a couple hundred grand. It’d been a few months. They had nothing to show for it.

There’s no staging. There’s nothing. And I come in just solely on this, you know, small contract. Again, to get started I sold them five hours a week. I’ll come in five hours a week. Just look at things help you get started 20 hours for the month, do X amount for the month. You know, and I think in this contract I gave ’em a deal on the hours.

Even like the first three months, it’s gonna be this amount after the three months. It’ll go up. And in that context, just really helping them uncover what was going on. Getting a staging environment stood up, actually showing the week’s progress with the app so that the stakeholders could actually see this team is delivering.

And it wasn’t anything hard. I should frame that right. For someone who’s been building software and managing teams and making sure things get shipped, it wasn’t that hard to step in there. Start instituting poll requests, even at the basic level, it’s just merging, like reviewing people’s code and making sure it’s getting things done and it’s working.

And I think that’s sort of a great way to get started. And so someone who is trying to get into it, I would say just start there and get good at that. And if you can do that, there’s plenty of opportunities in this space, but being a CTO previously, it does give you some advantages.

I’m not gonna lie in that. I’ve done due diligence, security audits. I did enterprise agreements, so I’ve done security audits with Bloomberg, BlackRock, like the large sort of, you know, financial companies. And so can I run a security review? Yeah. And that helps because my clients need that, but not every client needs that you could have an eCommerce company that just needs help integrating their Shopify site with Snowflake and they wanna build a dashboard and they’ve hired someone to do that and it’s not getting done and then they could hire you to come in and just get it across the finish line. And so it’s finding those opportunities where, you know, someone just needs someone five, 10 hours a week to do that sort of work…

What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success?

[20:46] Vidal: Morgan, I think it’s very remarkable and impressive what you’ve done. You have a lot of hustle, you have a lot of clients and you have your own startup too. So, what’s a personal habit that contributes to your success?

[20:58] Morgan: I would say I could give you the usual right. Eat, diet exercise, sleep. These, the usual things…

I would say the big thing for me was I became, I get up in the morning, I think there’s all kinds of to talk about this. I would say it’s not so much about. Up at 5:00 AM, but I think what happened for me is getting up at 5:00 AM. I first started to do it, to work out I will get up and work out. And then what ended up happening was I wouldn’t work out every day, but I realized I had to keep getting up at 5:00 AM every day. Cause if I stopped and didn’t do it one day, then I wanted to be able to do it again. So I realized that I just gotta get up at 5:00 AM every day, but you do need a day all from the gym occasionally.

And so then I realized well, I’ll just work. And what had happened at the time was I had sold a startup. And was sort of working on transitioning it as the interim CEO. And I started working at my own startup and I was doing it on days I didn’t go to the gym. I would get up at 5:00 AM, work on my startup.

And then that’s when I realized at 5:00 AM to 8:00 AM I was the most productive. I wrote the most code I could design the most UI. I just got so much done. There’s no interruptions. Just me a cup of coffee. And silence and I, and also my, I have kids, so my kids wanna get up till about 7:30 – 8:00. And so by then, you know, I’d already worked through hours and I realized that really what it came down to was recognizing when was I’m most productive and making sure that time was spent doing something and even to this day, I don’t sell those hours. You can’t buy those hours from me like that 5:00 AM, the 8:00 AM block is mine . And I usually spend it coding or doing sort of contribution work that I enjoy doing. And it keeps me focused and hands-on and still in the process.

And so I think for folks out there I don’t, I can’t get up at 5:00 AM. It’s fine. , But just recognize what part of the day is your most productive and then figuring out how to carve that and make that special, make sure you’re doing something for yourself, whether that’s writing or whatever you’re trying to accomplish.

And knowing when that is and the other big piece, I’m a fan of naps. I take a nap. I’m not gonna lie. That nap time is usually around two 30 or three o’clock. Cause I do get up at five and you know, usually about 2 30, 3 o’clock I might take a 15-minute power nap, and then I’m back. I got called and so nothing like being on a call and you’re exhausted, you’re like falling asleep in your chair.

And I think I embrace the nap. I encourage other people to do it.

[23:22] Vidal: I love this. This is great advice. I realize this, I’ll tell you for myself. So I used to stay up really late to work on like side hustles or different projects and the problem staying up late to work on ’em.

And like I say, at 3:00 AM doing these things, the hours from midnight to 3:00 AM. You’re exhausted, you don’t do your best work. So if you’re gonna spend three hours working on something like that better to do 5:00 AM to 8:00 AM than to try to do like midnight to 3:00 AM, it’s a huge difference

[23:53] Morgan: I find.

Yeah. Yeah. And I agree. And I think, and I had kids and I think that was the flip for I used to be that person. I try and do stuff at night after I got home from work and I ate dinner and the 10:00 PM to 1:00 AM slot try and work. And then once I had kids, I was like, I just I’m exhausted.

Like I can’t do this. And that’s when it flipped. I was like, I should just go to bed and then I can get up and I’m fresh, and yeah, totally.

If you could recommend one book to managers, or even fractional CTOs or CTOs, what would it be and why?

[24:16] Vidal: Yeah. Yeah, no, that’s great advice. If you could recommend one book to managers, or even fractional CTOs or CTOs, what would it be and why?

[24:27] Morgan: It’s hard to pick one. I might have to pick two but I’ll make them short. So my one would be Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday. Uh, Great book. I wouldn’t say it’s like this book that’s going to give you some great business insight, but I think it’s a valuable book to understand, you know, his idea around ego is he talks about it in many ways and has a very philosophical.

Ego Is the Enemy by [Ryan Holiday]

Sort of view like Marcus Aurelius but very mindful. And I think what you realize is how often you see ego in organizations and it can be anything, right? People have different types of ego and it’s recognizing it at others, but also in yourself and being mindful. I think as a leader, that’s really important to have that ability to recognize that within yourself and others.

And the last one I recommend this just anyone, in general, uh, Chop Wood Carry Water blanking on the name of the author. It’s a fun short book. It’s told parable it’s about this guy that once becomes a samurai archer. It’s written in this, like in which it’s entertaining.

Chop Wood Carry Water: How to Fall In Love With the Process of Becoming Great by [Joshua Medcalf]

It’s kind of meant for someone and someone in a review is like, oh, I give it to my teenagers. Like all my classroom. Cause the kids think that the high schoolers think it’s a fun read, but it’s about this idea of like discipline and going through the motions and very much this idea of chop wood carry water.

And I think it’s something to be said about, recognizing sometimes you have to do hard things that you don’t want to do in order to get better. And it teaches that mindset, right? That so much of what I do is chop wood carry water. essentially even today as a manager or as a leader.

[26:07] Vidal: That, that’s amazing. So I haven’t heard the Chop Wood Carry Water I’m gonna check that out. But you mentioned Ryan Holiday. I love Ryan Holiday stuff, stoic philosophy, I didn’t know you’re gonna mention this, but look at my hat, see what it says on my hat. Oh memento mori it is a stoic thing.

And I actually have one of Ryan Holidays memento mori posters here on my wall. Yeah, that stuff is really great. So you’re a fan of his, yeah, I highly recommend uh, the Daily Stoic Podcast is his podcast and his books are really great. The whole thing of Stoic philosophy is really fascinating.

I, yeah, I love your recommendation and I had no idea. It’s crazy.

[26:45] Morgan: I had no idea. I didn’t even see your hat. I just thought it was like a tech hat or something, yeah. And it’s been a while since I read it, but it’s definitely that book that’s always stuck with me and I, even to this day, I’ll sit there and be like, and I’ll assess something to like really about.

I think even today, I could point some current events right now. We got some ego going on out there in this world.

What do you think it takes to be a great engineering leader or CTO?

[27:06] Vidal: What do you think it takes to be a great engineering leader or CTO?

[27:11] Morgan: I think I only really speak, from my own context of what I. I think I’m a great CTO. And I think a large part of that is one is empathy. And that really being able to have empathy for your team. I think I’ve been in some tough situations with some tough conversations around folks.

You can have in an organization a lot can happen, interpersonal conflicts, people’s performance. There’s a lot of things that go into it and it’s easy sometimes for someone to be, oh, that person’s a slacker, they’re not doing this. And it’s just like, well, you know, maybe they got stuff going on.

Like maybe they’re a single parent, maybe, you know, like something’s going on in their relationship at home. And so I think it’s having that ability to have empathy is obviously instrumental in you building relationships with people because at the end of the day, you don’t get to be a senior leader and have a career as a CTO being kinda a bad manager. At the end of the day, empathy is a big piece of it.

….empathy is obviously instrumental in you building relationships with people because at the end of the day, you don’t get to be a senior leader and have a career as a CTO being kinda a bad manager.

I would say learning — like you can never stop learning. And I think a big piece of being like my role as a CTO, I got out of the swim lane very early in my career. I think a lot of organizations would be like, stay in the engineering swim lane. Don’t get out. And I would wanna get outta the swim lane, and be like, I don’t like what product’s doing, you know, and be like, shut up, get back in the engineering pool.

Like you don’t get to go mess with product, but I would get out and be like, I’m gonna go do some product. In fact, I think this could be redone and that’s kinda how I from a front-end engineering perspective early on, I got involved in product and really pushing back that product, and can you wire that up cause like pictures don’t make sense. And that piece of understanding, like learning how products should be maybe doing it because maybe product that your organization’s not doing a great job and you sort of to have to fill in. And so taking that initiative to learn to do that. And then I think when I was a CTO at a startup, I started doing more sales.

Like I started doing sales. I sat on sales calls and I think even to this day, when I mentor people on Plato, a lot of the times the conversation is I’m an engineering leader, but what’s next. How do I become the next step of VP of engineering? How do I do this? And I start to push on them.

Are you doing what’s your interaction with product? What are you doing? Are you talking to sales? Have you ever been on a customer call? Like do you think sales, let you join those calls and taking that initiative of wanting to learn and realizing like you have to get out the engineering swim lane occasionally and expand, and again, learning goes back to this piece that you gotta put yourself out there and say, I don’t know but I’m here to learn.

And I think that’s another quality that makes for a great CTO is having that range essentially because as a CTO, you’re going to wear a lot of hats essentially. Especially at the small startups that I’m at again. Cause a CTO at a large company, like Microsoft is very different than a CTO at an eight-person startup or a 12 person startup essentially.

[29:58] Vidal: Yeah. I think this is great. I love the whole learning thing that you mentioned and yeah. Work working with sales and product. Right. You know, getting out of just the pure engineering to see the big picture is really fantastic.

Where can we go to learn more about you?

Morgan, you’ve been really generous with your time. You’ve shared some super interesting things. Like I learned a lot about fractional CTOs. Like I didn’t really know what it was before, so thank you for that. And if people wanted to connect with you later, find out more about you or your startup or connect with you, what be the best way.

[30:32] Morgan: Yeah, you can go to my website. It’s morgancraft.com you can reach out to me there. I have a form there but the best way to probably get in contact with me is LinkedIn. Just ping me on LinkedIn. I’m happy to talk about any of this. If anyone out there has an interest in fractional CTO and just learning more about how to get started, how to get your, like for a set of clients, like how to approach it.

Happy to talk about that stuff. So just definitely reach out to me on LinkedIn and also if you have any interest in what I’m doing for my startup and you are a factional CTO, and you’re curious, and sort of cause part of what I build on my startup it’s gitbabel it’s at a collaboration and learning platform built for engineering teams.

And so a lot of what I do has been baked into that of product because I manage so many teams and how do I do all that? So if you’re interested in learning more about that also um, gitbabel.com for that. But obviously, LinkedIn just send me a connection request. Send me your favorite emoticon and like just one or two words and happy to connect with folks and talk to you there as well.

[31:28] Vidal: Awesome. I’ll put links to that in the transcript and the show notes. So thank you again so much.

[31:34] Morgan: No worries. Thank you for that Vidal. It’s great talking. So have a good day. You too.

Some Key Takeaways

  • And so when you parachute into an organization it’s making sure it’s not hostile. And I think one of the biggest challenges you can have is you gotta be able to put yourself out there.
  • I prefer learning cultures. And so it’s all about like, how do I create collaboration? How do I create safety among the people on the team? Again, going back to don’t blaming folks.
  • I would say the biggest piece from how I organize everything I do it’s around documentation…. Because that’s how I get my context is through documentation and what I’ve now kinda labeled as microdocs.
  • Email is for invoicing. Not gonna lie.
  • If it’s not on my calendly I’m not gonna make it possibly.
  • And I think I embrace the nap. I encourage other people to do it.
  • A fractional CTO is a consultancy. It’s a business. So at the heart of it, you’re going to build a business.
  • I don’t charge hourly anymore. I charge retainers. What you wanna do or create what they call value-based retainers.
  • And then that’s when I realized at 5:00 AM to 8:00 AM I was the most productive. I wrote the most code I could design the most UI. I just got so much done. There are no interruptions. Just me a cup of coffee.
  • Empathy is obviously instrumental in building relationships with people because at the end of the day, you don’t get to be a senior leader and have a career as a CTO being kinda a bad manager.

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