A Career Journey to Becoming President

A Career Journey to Becoming President

12:12 19 October in Business, Careers, Workplace
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The changing business landscape, powered by technology, has continued redefining industries and job roles. The job market continues to evolve as the demand for new skills is on the rise. Likewise, new positions have emerged while some traditional ones have disappeared. Within this backdrop, I shaped my career from Technical Support Manager to Chief Technology Officer (CTO) to the President of the company.

Expressing it in one paragraph makes it sound pretty simple but rest assured nothing about this journey has been easy. Anyone in the technology space appreciates that a career trajectory like what I have experienced is a lifelong learning journey, which is why I share my story to inspire others. I say it’s very doable for any CTO, CIO, or even MIS Manager who would like to rise to their organization’s top rank.

Flexing to the Transition

I have to say it wasn’t the most natural of transitions. After all, as a CTO, my job description deals primarily with technology matters affecting my organization, both internally for my organization and externally for our clients. I am the executive in charge of developing the company’s strategy for using technological resources and, more importantly, creating technology that supports and advances our clients’ businesses. So ultimately, I oversee all research and development (R&D).

As the CTO, I work leading a technical support and development team. Transitioning to the President of the company means accepting a hybrid position and knowing both roles are equally important. In the new role, I am the company’s face, leading my organization’s business strategy, and the person spearheading the technology advancements our clients and my own organization need to stay ahead of the curve.  I should note that officially my title is now President and CTO, as I still intend to participate in the architecture of our product, so I asked to keep my CTO title (Call me sentimental).

But how did this happen? This is the interesting part.

The Rise to President

As the technology officer, my role is mostly functional. I have a set of skills to apply to the job and am comfortable dealing in an expertise-based role. The position of CTO is unlike most leadership roles in organizations, which tend to be broadly and historically operational.

As the CTO, it appeared that my role was locked in, and I was working in a closely-knit and skill-based area, but I had an ace up my sleeve. Along my career journey, I acquired invaluable leadership skills working as the head of technology and supplemented my education by obtaining an MBA in finance.

I know that to lead a team of technology experts, I need to rely on great leadership skills. However, I didn’t start out with the idea of advancing my position to become President. It was a desire inside to refine my skills that increased my interest in business leadership. Over time, I observed that the founders had come to rely heavily on our company’s technical skills and on me to create the products that are foundational to our company’s business.

Preparing for the Evolving Job Market Landscape

It’s no secret that the job market continues to change as most industries embrace technology to drive growth. The role of a technologist continues to gain stock in what is our information society. Hence, as a CTO of a technology company, I knew it was only a matter of time before my role became the bedrock of the organization.

With this in mind, I continued sharpening my management and leadership skills and used my in-depth knowledge of technology to pave the way to greater opportunities.

Finally, the opportunity came, and I didn’t think twice… well, maybe for a split second! But I knew it was the right opportunity to head up one of the most innovative business software companies in the HR space, but as with most things in life, it comes with some sacrifice. It takes a lot of work and lots of conversations to have a transition like this makes sense, but always omnipresent for me is how my employees are handling the change. Incorporating them into the process and collaboratively working with them helps all of us settle into the new structure. And further, many of them have also risen up the ranks because of the company’s new structure.

Lessons Learned Along the Way

What have I learned so far in my transition from CTO to my new title as President and CTO?

Here are my key takeaways and advice for aspiring CTOs:

  • Keep Learning your Business

As a CTO, everything is about our skills as the head of a technical team. However, as the President of a company, my job description is now virtually borderless. I have to closely monitor everything in the organization to ensure things are moving seamlessly. Hence, taking a closer look at processes and procedures that are more all-encompassing is now a greater focus.

As the company’s business evolves, I have to learn every aspect to guide me in proper decision making; this is the most crucial lesson when transitioning from CTO to a more expansive position. Luckily, having an education in finances helps during this transition and guides me to focus on the business essentials that are the company’s critical components. Note: I’m not pushing that pursuing additional education is the ticket to success, but when the right opportunity comes around, and you have a few more tools in your skills and knowledge belt, it can serve as that added boost you need.

  • Don’t Rest on your Laurels

After making it to the top position in your organization, you have to savor the moment, right? Wrong. There’s no time to enjoy any comforts that come with the demands of this position. My focus has changed from seeing things exclusively through the lens of technology to the broader picture of a business leader.

As I mentioned earlier, it comes with a lot of sacrifice of my personal time to learn about every aspect of the business that I was not formerly involved with on a daily basis.

The new role demands a great deal from me, and I put in a lot of hours and effort to steer the ship smoothly, but as I see the outcomes of my efforts and everyone’s efforts within the organization, I couldn’t be more proud of us. With time, we’re all settling in very well and adjusting to our new business structure.

  • The Team is an Invaluable Asset

You know the saying, “no man is an island?” This applies when it comes to collaboration and company growth. Having smart, willing, and dedicated people around you are one of the most valuable parts of running a company. They are your eyes and ears when you can’t be leading the charge on a project or initiative, so having a great team assembled is essential in the continuing success of your organization… without a doubt!

For example, I heavily rely on the sales and marketing teams to push through my plans for brand promotion, new business, and advertising. And I depend on the customer success team to keep the clients happy and coming back for more, and the technical support team to answer our clients’ software questions and provide guidance. I have an excellent background in technology, but my new role as President and CTO demands an all-round understanding of the company. This is why my entire team is essential.

All-in-all and through continuing, productive collaboration, my transition from CTO to my dual role as President and CTO has been relatively smooth. I credit the smooth transition to the support of my team, who are some of the most dedicated and smartest people I have ever worked with, and to our new owners who are opening the doors to new frontiers for the company and seeing the benefits in how the intersection of technology and business leadership can come together successfully.

Photo by Razvan Chisu on Unsplash

LJ Morris

ljm@aps2k.com

LJ Morris is the President and Chief Technology Officer of SmartSearch. LJ holds an MBA in Finance and a BS in General Business and Computer Science. As a strong advocate of the agile development environment, he believes the secret to survival in the technology world is the ability to remain fluid, and adapt on a moment’s notice. An admitted technology junky, LJ enjoys bridging the gap between technology and people.

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