How you can thrive because you still have lots to offer

person standing in an office setting holding a briefcase and rolled up newspaper
person standing in an office setting holding a briefcase and rolled up newspaper
Photo by Adeolu Eletu on Unsplash

If you feel like 40 is too old, you are wrong.

Imagine this: You arrive at the office early. You drop your backpack and head for the kitchen. Your kids woke you up early after you spent half the night coaxing them to sleep. You need coffee.

With your coffee mug in hand, you notice three software developers talking in the kitchen. It’s 9 a.m. These youngsters are here early, you think to yourself.

You notice they’re wearing the same clothes as yesterday. Oh my God, they’ve been here all night. Crap! Did something fail? What now?

The CEO zooms past you, smiling from ear to ear. She skips over to the group and gives them a high-five, letting out a celebratory howl. …

How to negotiate like a pro

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Photo by nappy from Pexels

Moving up the ranks as an engineer is something that many accomplish. From the time I was nine years old, I wanted to be at the top of the technical ladder. My father gave me my first few lessons on how to be a pro; he ignited a fire in me that would burn until I stood at the post of CTO — several times.

Before I ever saw the words “Chief Technology Officer” written in an offer letter, I failed a lot. I paid my dues, slogging through 13 startups, building software, and growing businesses. …

And how you can make it happen for yourself

Man smiling and holding up hands in excited gesture
Man smiling and holding up hands in excited gesture
By StockSnap — 894430 from Pixabay

The abridged answer is I learned how to deliver value.

I’ve read oodles of articles about growing careers that, frankly, sound cliche. As a connoisseur of stuff that helps me strive toward excellence, I consume an impressive amount of articles. Sadly, I am unimpressed with the litany of unoriginal ideas. It’s easy to be bludgeoned by one-liners such as “be all you can be” for modest gains — at best. Many engineers wonder why they have colossal work-loads but remain on a financial treadmill.

Most engineers rise quickly and then plateau.

Earlier in my career, I valued the work. Coding was my dream job; it was existence itself. If you asked me in my 30s if I wanted to manage, I would have declared, “Management is for those who can’t code!” …

And, the 4 things you must know

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Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

If you are a CTO, you need to see yourself as an executive. If you don’t, you will be fired.

In this blog, I give advice I failed to follow at the beginning of my career. It is advice, once followed, that propelled me to the top. Not only was I able to help take a company public, but now I run a successful consulting business. I use the same principles found in this article.

The meaning of CTO

Operating at the CTO level is the most counter intuitive endeavor you will ever take on.

If you are moving from a start-up CTO, to a larger company, it’s worse. It turns out that a computer science degree does not teach you how to deal with a board room. I’d venture to say, that no focused degree does. …

…and still make it to dinner

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Photo by Jimmy Dean on Unsplash

A long time ago, I took my five and three-year-old to work — at night.

I worked for a startup that was “the next big thing,” at least in our minds. We dreamed big. We would make billions and cement ourselves as a household name.

The night I took my kids to work was critical for the company. The first major release of our new product was going live. Customers were clamoring. We were on edge, but there was a positive energy in the building.

Some of us saw generational wealth as a possible outcome. We were counting our chickens before they hatched, but we didn’t know it then. I recall fantasizing about my success track from college to that moment. “This was it,” I thought to myself. …

Practical advice to ease your anxiety

Meeting. Person writing on a whiteboard.
Meeting. Person writing on a whiteboard.
Photo by Christina @ on Unsplash

Technical interviews are scary as hell. Often you feel like you are boarding a roller coaster without a seatbelt.

You dread walking into a room where a panel awaits with a list of trick questions; your stomach sinks, and your hands sweat. The judge and jury studied these questions beforehand, yet expect you to hit the nail on the head in 45 minutes.

Your colleagues are your harshest critics. An interview failure is a blow to your ego. What will the panel think of you, and what does it mean for your career?

Interviewing for something you do all the time should be a cakewalk, but it’s not. Many engineers keep their current job for fear of interviewing. They avoid esoteric algorithms posed as questions, and the idea of sitting in front of a panel while smart people hurl technical darts at them is not enticing. So, they stay put — choosing the devil they know. …

Here’s why.

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Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Chief technology officer is like being Jon Snow in Game of Thrones: you are the bastard executive.

I dreamt of this titled position from a young age. I wanted to change the world with technology. With ingenuity and a computer, I could do anything.
When I got my hands on my first coding magazine, I thought I had won the lottery. Letter by letter, I’d type in code to make things work. My fascination would lead me to college and later a career in technology.

I had no idea what life as an executive had in store for me. They say ignorance is bliss, but my moments of joy were far and few between. I thought it would be everything that I dreamt of, but it was a…

Unveiling the secret tactics of service providers

A macro shot of a timer
A macro shot of a timer
Photo by Agê Barros on Unsplash

American service providers know they can’t compete with offshore companies on price. Customers demand the lowest rates, even when it doesn’t make business sense. Service providers compensate by competing on other factors, but customers don’t care.

Onshore providers promise to eliminate language barriers. Still, this isn’t enough to overcome the seductive nature of lower prices. To combat the yet-another-vendor syndrome, providers create videos demonstrating their expertise. They show engineers high-fiving each other, hopeful that customers will value camaraderie.

Even if it were true that U.S. engineers are more skilled, most customers are far too cost-conscious. They will cut off their arm to save a few cents on the dollar. Software delivered fast is more important than quality. And if delivery is cheap, they’re willing to throw caution to the wind. …

Remove the nerves and add immediate value.

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Photo by abhishek gaurav on Unsplash

I remember the first time I failed at a sales meeting. It was epic, I was misinformed, but I learned to do better.

My boss requested I stand in for the CTO who needed to attend another meeting. So I did.

The sales call started with the usual pleasantries. My job was to provide technical support. As I waited for my turn, word clouds appeared over my head as I thought about whimsical technical jargon.

I listened to their “technical discussion” while shaking my head. What BS, I thought. These guys know nothing about the platform.

I listened to our sales VP fumble through technical concepts. I watched as his eyes look at me, then panned towards the speakerphone. His eyes almost spoke, “say something, James.” …

How I conquer my daily struggle.

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Photo by Zhang Kenny on Unsplash

Sometimes I wake up, and I don’t want to do anything. The day’s goals seem daunting, but I understand I must soldier on.

The demands of leadership are like carrying an anvil. For much of my career, I’ve been the “throat to choke” on the frontline of production mishaps, over-promises, and angry customers.

To be the one with a target on your forehead makes you assume the fetal position and weep. The grind of the technology business exhausting. Deadlines, sprint-points, and deliverables are all euphemisms for stress.

Companies are no different. How do I get up and sell, but all I want to do is write code? When will the company scale, and does it always have to be me? …


James Williams

Founder of COFEBE, Inc. We build tools that make engineer’s jobs easier.

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