As part of a regular series powered by Microsoft, BetaKit interviews prominent Canadian CTOs speaking earnestly on the biggest challenges they face in their role, as well as future technology predictions in their space.
Justin Pedro has worked in many organizations, supporting the earliest stages of startup tech to leading companies through their growth. He’s in the latter role now with Cloud DX, a wearables startup that leverages cloud connections to help make medical decisions quickly.
Quick decisions and courage under fire
“The CTO of an early stage startup has to be a generalist,” Pedro said. “They have to fill the gaps that are big enough to be issues but not yet big enough to be full-time roles. For me right now, that’s product design and building product architecture.”
Cloud DX is just under 30 employees, with almost 20 of them being on the technical side, so Pedro’s got a lot on his plate.
“As the company grows, you can dedicate more time to running the tech operation instead of multitasking, which is where we are now.”
It’s no longer an option to let a company’s recruitment story sit only with the CEO or HR.
That being said, Pedro firmly believes the CTO role has evolved to be more multi-functional than ever before. It’s not enough to build technical competencies into your own product, you have to “deal with multiple saddles” and build up your general knowledge in a variety of cutting-edge technologies.
“CTOs now need to have a much broader knowledge base in order to amalgamate different technologies, but this is for creating new opportunity and product,” Pedro said. “You can never accomplish meaningful technological changes overnight. It’s going to be a long road, so communication is paramount.”
Data security first, but trust your team
When it comes to a multi-disciplinary approach – especially when the information could save someone’s life – data security becomes a massive issue for CTOs.
So massive, in fact, that Pedro believes every CTO should be focused on data security when they are building out their products.
Pay attention to the arsenal that hackers have at their disposal.
“Pay attention to the arsenal that hackers and other digital attackers have at their disposal. What was secure last year may not be secure this year. All CTOs have to keep on top of this and understand what’s likely to become insecure in the future.”
Given that Cloud DX operates in a security-focused environment, handling data that needs to be ready at all times, the reality is that “always on” is a way of life. However, Pedro does his best to trust the team he’s hired and ensure that people can relax and have a life.
“I am always connected to organizational communications, and my phone has become part of my personal life,” Pedro said. “It’s simply necessary. However, I also recognize the need for vacation, relaxing, and enjoying other areas of life, so I focused on building up a great team that can back me up when I am not available (and I can back them up, too).”
Recently, due to Cloud DX’s growth, Pedro has been able to step away from some daily coding aspects, meaning fewer emergencies make their way to him because they are caught by the team earlier on.
“Now that the team has grown, my energy is focused on helping everyone become more efficient rather than trying to be a star individual contributor.”
Passion wins (but is hard to find)
Building that amazing team — one that will let him step away and know the show will go on — is the biggest challenge Pedro faces in his role today.
Despite being a technical-minded CTO, Pedro explained that “the quality of the people I surround myself with will be the biggest factor in my success.”
Finding team members who meet the elusive trifecta of passion about Cloud DX’s mission, possession of the technical chops needed to succeed, and being a Cloud DX culture fit has proven difficult, though not impossible.
Passion is the ultimate trait for Pedro in hiring, and he gives the same advice to anyone from a larger firm looking to become a CTO at a startup.
“My energy is focused on helping everyone become more efficient rather than trying to be a star individual contributor.”
“[Before you join a startup], make sure you are 100 percent passionate and dedicated to the goal of the organization you’d be leading,” he said.
Once someone knows they are passionate, Pedro cautions that they will also have to be willing to roll their sleeves up and pitch in with every little task that may be needed.
“You don’t have the sophisticated systems that you’d find at a larger firm, and there’s little infrastructure to back you. Take that passion but then be willing to work.”
This means that the team has to be high quality; a CTO cannot ‘dilute technical ability,’ as Pedro says.
In the war for passionate, talented people, a CTO has to wear an extra hat of talent-brand ambassador for the technical side of the business. It’s no longer an option to let a company’s recruitment story sit only with the CEO or HR.
“We have an HR function, but we’re also keeping busy going to meetups, reaching out to recruiters occasionally, and striking up conversations with as many people as possible – you never know who knows someone that might be a great fit,” he explained.