Being the CTO and Leading Disruption at the 50-year-old Start-up Syncsort
This article was first published on Information Age by Nick Ismail.
The company has been in the software space for five decades now, but it has the mentality of a start-up, with a focus on strong growth and continuous innovation on new, disruptive technologies.
Organizations Looking to Embrace Digital Transformation, Should Adopt a Start-up Mentality
Disruptive technologies, driven by business challenges, have been happening over the last five decades, from; mainframe to UNIX disruption; UNIX to Linux and Windows and distributed computing to hybrid cloud. This disruption will continue.
“With this disruptive focus, we have seen significant growth across our revenue and employees over the last 18 months, and we focus on both organic and also inorganic growth,” says Yogurtçu.
Innovation; Align it to the Customer Problem
As CTO at Syncsort, Yogurtçu’s role is to set the strategy for and manage over 300 global R&D engineers.
She is responsible for leading R&D, focusing on both product R&D teams and cross-product portfolio teams where, for example: one team will focus on the incubation of new products and looking at emerging trends, while partnering with customers to understand how their businesses will be challenged by some of the emerging trends, and incubate new ideas before handing over to the product R&D team.
“I also have responsibility for how to evolve the user experience across the large portfolio,” says Yogurtçu.
Similar to other CTOs, a big part of her role is to work very closely with customers, who are often challenged by their existing architectures (because these are large enterprises).
According to Yogurtçu, 84 of the Fortune 100 are Syncsort’s customers, and they are all challenged by existing architecture, new regulations and employees who lack the required skills to manage data sets or govern the data and deliver insights to the end users.
“So, I work with the customers very closely and then in turn, drive Syncsort’s strategy and product development to help our customers achieve their business goals, make their enterprise data accessible, create those trusted data sets and establish effective data governance practices,” says Yogurtçu.
To give a flavor of this workload, Yogurtçu tells Information Age about her recent trip to India, where she visited “our teams and had an all-engineering kickoff with them.
“Our motto is that innovation should be solving the important problems for our customers: ‘If innovation is your goal, by all means look to technology for opportunities to disrupt the current playing field. But if business success is also your goal, make sure your innovation lines up with the critical customer problem that no one has solved. And if you are wondering what that problem is, ask your customers.’”
In her role, it is important to repeat this focus to all the technology and engineering teams.
Diversity; Critical to Success
In any CTO role, customer success is crucial.
But, following that, a key ingredient for CTO success is diversity. It’s undeniable, diverse teams and organisations are more successful than those that are not.
“Diversity,” says Yogurtçu, “is such a big source of innovation that we don’t sometimes stop and recognize, or take pride in that.”
“To be honest, it wasn’t something that even I necessarily was paying attention over the years, I just paid attention to create a fair environment for everybody. But a couple of years back when Twitter and Google started announcing their percentages of people with different ethnicities, people with different genders, that’s when we started paying attention to it,” says Yogurtçu.
Today, 40% of Syncsort’s entire engineering team are women — which is a tremendous figure, given that women only occupy around 20% technology roles globally, with even less in engineering.
“We didn’t set goals for these numbers, which is the beauty of it,” says Yogurtçu. “It happened because we created a fair environment. In this, people feel comfortable they will not be judged for gender or ethnicity or ideas; we all have ideas. Sometimes they may not be great ones, but if we share then and discuss them, that becomes a really big source of innovation.”
Articulate to Communicate
Communicating very technical aspects of products is a key skill that any CTO needs to develop. Engineers will understand, but those who make the decisions — the CEOs or investors of the world — might need a more ‘basic’ description, and so it is important to be able to articulate this “in a way that can be understood by people from different backgrounds or understanding of the technology,” says Yogurtçu.
When you are immersed in technology and talking with so many customers and engineers, CTOs have to be able to switch gears.
Yogurtçu believes that her seven to eights years teaching in graduate school helped with this. “The teaching experience probably helped me develop that skill because when you are teaching, you always have different levels of knowledge in the class. So, you have to have some way of personalizing your relation with them because people hear you and understand you better if you are able to personalize the conversation.”
She is quick to point out that this skill needs continuous development, especially if you are a CTO.