Does Your CEO Understand Software Development?

In an era where software is eating the world, CEO’s need to build up their software acumen

Napoleon is considered one of the greatest military leaders of history. Over the course of a decade, he rose from obscurity to conquer most of continental Europe. Yet, for all his military genius, what arguably made him so successful in battle was his understanding of logistics.

You will not find it difficult to prove that battles, campaigns, and even wars have been won or lost primarily because of logistics.
- General Dwight D. Eisenhower

Up until Napoleon, most large scale conflicts were local. It was simply too difficult and complex to maintain supply chains across long distances. If you cannot supply, feed, and care for the troops, chances are the troops won’t last long.

Napoleon’s brilliance was understanding the mechanics of how to wage war beyond the X’s and O’s of the battlefield. He built supply chains and systems to maintain the strength of the massive Grande Armée even when far from home. Great generals do not just focus on battle strategy, they also focus on logistics strategy, or in other words, the engine behind the battle.

Leaders in modern corporations are not so different to battlefield generals. Companies that win in the market perform at a high level across all key functions. That includes not just the front line customer facing teams like sales and marketing, but the support functions as well.

Yet in recent years, companies have gone in a different direction. The era of outsourcing led CEO’s to reduce or even eliminate whole departments. The premise was to maximize shareholder value by focusing on the things they did best and lower costs by unwinding things they did not do well, like technology and software development.

Then all of a sudden being good at technology and software development mattered. I was just reading Bank 4.0 and the rise of tech companies like Ant Financial have completely reshaped what it means to bank and how to deliver banking services. At a current valuation of $150 billion USD, Ant Financial is poised to leapfrog the four big Chinese banks in the next five years.

You often hear people say that every company is a tech company. The reality however is most CEO’s in large enterprises do not understand what it takes to be great at technology. They know balance sheets and sales forecasts and go-to-market strategies. They espouse the call to be “customer-centric” and to deliver great products and services that build consumer loyalty.

What happens then when more and more of those products & services are delivered online?

CEO’s often make the mistake of thinking “software is the easy part”. However CEO’s being ignorant of how software works in this day and age is tantamount to a wartime general thinking logistics is grunt work. The battle really is all about delivering world-class software products.

How do you explain this then to the CEO and executive suite? Tom Limoncelli is a legend in the DevOps community, so let me point you to hi s brilliant blog post called “Tom’s Top Ten Things Executives Should Know About Software”.

Tom shares ten things that executives and business leaders should understand about software and he gives plenty of explanation and context for each point:

  1. Software is not magic
  2. Software is never “done”
  3. Software is a team effort; nobody can do it all
  4. Design isn’t how something looks; it is how it works
  5. Security is everyone’s responsibility
  6. Feature size doesn’t predict developer time
  7. Greatness comes from thousands of small improvements
  8. Technical debt is bad but unavoidable
  9. Software doesn’t run itself
  10. Complex systems need DevOps to run well

One tell-tale sign of companies I meet with whose CEO’s do not get software is the percentage of contractors in IT. In some cases, the percentage is over 80% resulting in longer software delivery lead times, fewer releases, more defects, and longer MTTR. Why? Because you cannot possibly deliver great software with people that have no connection to the company, the mission, the business objectives, or the results.

Companies that do not care to build native engineering and IT capability do not care about software. In their view, software is a commodity to be written by expendable resources. They epitomize the ten points in Tom’s post, summed up nicely by this quote:

If you don’t plan on future releases that will incorporate the best ideas of your employees, you have built a system that just solves yesterday’s problems. The world changes, your competitors offer new features, people have new ideas.

Software is complex because people, companies, and markets are complex and changing. As Heraclitus said, the only constant in life is change. If executives perceive of software as some discrete thing that you buy, configure once, then forget about, then much of modern software development would seem like mystical arts.

If your executives do not realize the importance of software to the company’s viability, use Tom’s post as a guide to help educate your executives. If that does not work, Tom has another suggestion. Brush up your resume and find a company that embraces software as the future.

Are you at a company whose executive’s understand software development? If not, what could help your CEO to understand the value of developers?

Why would someone open a Netflix account using my Gmail address?

Because obviously they want to Netflix and chill…on your tab.

We help IT leaders in enterprises solve the cultural challenges involved in digital transformation and move towards a community based culture that delivers innovation and customer value faster. Learn more about our work here.




Thoughts on developers, digital transformation, startups, community building & engineering culture. Author is Mark Birch @ AWS 👉

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