BOSS-it host, Mark Edwards has a wide-ranging chat with CTO and author, Mark Herschberg, who, it turns out, has been a guest on 180 podcasts. No pressure there then for our host to ask some decent questions :-)
Brief Bio for Mark Herschberg
Back in the 90s, during the .com era, Mark was a software developer. At the same time, he recognised the skills required to be successful were leadership, communication and networking. These were skills that were not taught in college, so he ended up teaching them at MIT - for the past 20 years.
Mark has followed these two careers in parallel and is still a CTO.
Best Lessons Learned
Mark says the best lessons he has learned came from a book called "Peopleware", by Tom de Marco & Timothy Lister – The essence of the book is that most software projects fail not because of technological (software) issues but for sociological reasons – In other words, because your team didn’t talk to each other and plan and communicate well, they messed up the project.
He outlines the most important things to do to avoid this scenario:
1) Set the overarching goal – What are we trying to achieve? – Not just what it is but how it's positioned.
2) Have a clear process - How are we going to work together? Have a clear idea for what happens when there’s an issue? – How do you raise that to your teammate? Where do we use Slack, versus an email or a meeting? Don’t leave this to chance.
3) Agree the definition of “Done”? – You need a common definition so that everybody knows when a job is actually complete.
AI, RPA and What Makes a Great User Interface
Host, Mark E, asks if AI exists and if so, what are the benefits? Mark H responds that it does but that it's a much over-hyped, overused and abused definition.
Mark H shares that he's a big fan of RPA (Robotic Process Automation). In fact, of any sort of automation. He believes it's better to automate mundane tasks, freeing ourselves to concentrate on higher-level things.
But the catch is that when we've experienced major changes in the past, they have taken place over much longer periods of time. For example, in the US, prior to the Industrial Revolution, 75% of the population was employed in farming. This reduced to 25% - but this radical change took place over 100 years, giving people time to adapt.
Nowadays they’re talking about all certain jobs being replaced within 3 years – Millions of people will have no job in a short period – We have to look at re-skilling people so that we don’t have a drain on the economy and widespread unrest.
The conversation turns to what makes a great user interface. One frequent error in the software sector is that companies will often build the software before they define the process.
Mark H recommends looking at Menlo Innovations – As a company, they have departed from normal practice by hiring people with anthropology and social sciences backgrounds to design their customer interfaces. They are ethnographers and take time to understand corporate culture, how people work and how their processes work. From this foundation, they then design interfaces that complement the way the company's processes work.
Marks talks about the disconnect between the tech team and the rest of the business and how different enterprise structures can either help or hinder the business in terms of the flow of information and inter-team conversations. He also suggests HR needs to stay close to Marketing because they’re marketing the business to prospective recruits.
Time to De-Stress...
Mark is an accomplished ballroom dancer and used to compete in his 20s. He believes it's a great way to de-stress and that you need to recognise in yourself when you’re straying into ‘stress’ – and then through trial and error you can work out how best to help yourself unwind.
Taking time out to de-stress is critically important when you're a senior executive or business owner because everything you do ripples through the organisation. Stress inhibits your decision-making ability. It’s about taking your attention elsewhere for a while.
The Career Toolkit – Mark A Herschberg
Download the career development kit:
Peopleware by Tom de Marco & Timothy Lister
The BOSS-it Podcast: