Technology Chiefs Interview with Justin Tomlinson

Acting CTO New Zealand Rugby, Founder: Delivery Craft, Partner: The Exponential Agency, Technology Adviser to Jucy Group

What are the top 3 priorities in your role?

These days I do more consulting and advising and so priorities can be radically different, but right now they are:

1. Help organisations pick the right approaches, skills and people so that they have a chance to survive and thrive in the digital world.

2. Work on things that are good for the world, I don’t have any issue with commerciality, but I really enjoy work more when there’s a purpose above that.

3. Make sure there’s time for me and my family.

Which previous role had the biggest impact on your career?

Working in Silicon Valley in the late 1990s, leading a consulting practice was simply an amazing time to be in tech. The attitude in the Valley at that time that anything was possible was infectious. In 2001, I met some of the founders and early practitioners of the Agile movement and I came back to the UK full of the joys of XP and Agile. Getting to implement it at AOL was my first big experience of seeing value driven delivery totally transform the “Business” (hate that) Technology relationship.

How do you see the role of the Technology Leader changing?

I think you have to be a polyglot to be great. In tech, especially as a CxO you have to know a lot about a lot. In the last ten years though I think it has become totally essential that Technology leaders have strong Commercial brains too. All that said, the best leadership advice I can give is, know your people.

What are the 3 most important issues confronting the technology industry?

1. Lack of highly skilled execution resource. Especially where I live now, New Zealand. It was hard enough in the 2000’s to get good developers to come to Sky out in Osterley. Getting highly skilled Digital people to NZ is really hard. They need a Visa that allows the gig economy to thrive by allowing people with proven skills to contract here.

2. The tech startup has become the new X-factor. Have an idea and get rich. It simply doesn’t work and I think there will be another market correction as the obvious plays out. Not everyone can be successful!

3. The VC and Corporate Investment Unicorn hunt. I think there’s a problem with this. Not everything has to be global scale and valued in Billions. So many great 20-100m businesses get overlooked and it’s a shame as there are so many routes to market still developing. There are also so many ways to integrate businesses and grow them these days as data and integration complexity come down.

What 3 technology trends are you most excited about and why?

I’m not really one for trends. I see them all of course but real innovation tends to come from nowhere that anyone predicted. That said, of course there’s stuff that you have to be excited about:

1. Computers, in our lifetime will surpass our “intelligence”. Will this result in Machine Consciousness? Finding out whether this is a solely human attribute will really help us understand our place in the universe. Quantum computing will likely unlock all these answers as processing and learning power goes off the chart exponentially.

2. We may find out if we are actually already in a simulation. There’s too much evidence to suggest that the logical extension of advanced AR and VR tech is a simulation so real that it’s just life. I like to feel like we are on the vanguard of organic intelligence but I wouldn’t be so sure.

3. Coming back from that to a commercial opportunity, I am excited by AR as a day to day experience and I think its the likely next mass consumer platform. We aren’t even ready for that as people who are addicted to phones and tablets but the market opportunities it creates touch every sphere of life and commerce. I think it will also revolutionise our input mechanisms from the lowly keyboard to new interfaces using a combination of sensors, voice, gesture and later thought.

A sneaky 4th has to be Blockchain based solutions. So many uses that can change the world for better and take out unnecessary waste in value chains.

What product or company is having the biggest impact?

In the last 2 years, the company I have been most excited about is Magic Leap, they play in that AR space and I think that if they pull off even a tenth of their ambition that the world will change forever. Some of it will be for good and some probably not, but as I say, I think the possibilities and use cases are almost endless and the scope to do good for the world here is huge.

What mobile app do you use every day?

Google Drive and Spotify, I am a music Junkie

What 3 skills should an aspiring Technology Leader look to develop?

1. The ability to listen and understand what motivates individuals and teams – Dan Pink I think is closest with Autonomy – Free to make decisions and mistakes, Mastery – Great at what they do and Purpose – Inspire me; are important. I’d add Reward – For some, money is an element but usually, it’s about being recognised openly for what they bring.

2. Non-directive coaching techniques are really useful when you are trying to help people develop without direction. Something as simple as the GROW model has really helped me when people come for answers.

3. Empathy always understand the viewpoint of others. The best leaders, understand all sides and then decide. But don’t fall into the “average” gap. Often, placating everyone leads to average outcomes. If it’s your decision, listen, then back your team and yourself and find a way to test your hypothesis quickly and use data to prove your hypothesis.

Where do you look for trusted technology information & inspiration?

Great question right now. Who do you trust with any news these days? 🙂 I like some of the usual suspects, Techcrunch, Reddit, CNET and Medium but really, I get more inspiration from talking to people who are forging a path. Founders, and really anyone smart are always a source of inspiration.

What books should someone looking to get on in their technology career read?

This will sound weird but I’d recommend The way of the peaceful warrior by Dan Millman.

If I have to pick a tech-ish book I’d say right now go read Chaos Monkeys. It will give you an insight into what it’s really like at the elite end of tech in the Valley.

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