AKF Partners

Abbott, Keeven & Fisher PartnersPartners In Hyper Growth

VP of Operations

One of the most common questions we get from individuals is “what is the path to becoming a CTO?” We posted about this before and focused on the skill sets required as opposed to the path to get there.  We highlighted 1) good knowledge of business in general 2) great technical experience 3) great leadership 4) great manager 4) great communicator and 5) willing to let go.  This time we’re going to one of the jobs that is often a stepping stone to the CTO job.

The VP of Operations is the person who leads the Technology Operations or Production Operations team.  This team has responsibility for running the hardware and software systems of the company. For SaaS or Web2.0 companies this is the revenue generating systems. For corporate IT this is the ERP, CRM, HRM, etc. This team is often comprised of project managers, operations managers, and technical leads. As the head of the Operations team the VP of Operations has responsibility for monitoring, escalating, managing issues, and reporting on availability, capacity, and utilization. Incident and problem management as well as root cause analysis (postmortem) are some of the most important jobs that their team accomplishes. In order to perform this role well the VP of Operations must have good process skills, a strong leadership presence, able to remain calm under fire, and goof overal knowledge of the system.

The VP of Operations is often also responsible for the Infrastructure team. This team is usually comprised of system administrators, database administrators, and network engineers. This team procures, deploys, maintains, and retires systems. As the head of this team the VP of Operations has requirements for budgeting, balancing time between longer term projects and daily operations on the systems. This team understands the system holistically and are often the most useful when performing scalability summits. In order to perform this role well, the VP of Operations must have a good understanding of each of the technical roles that this team is responsible for, including the databases, operating systems, and the network. This doesn’t mean in order to succeed in this role a person must be able do each of these jobs but they do need a good, solid understanding in order to converse, brainstorm, debate, and make decisions in each of these technical realms.

If you compare this list of skills that we mentioned at the top of this post with those mentioned as necessary to succeed as the VP of Operations you’ll see they overlap a good deal. Great technical experience, great leadership, and great management skills will serve you well as the head of operations and will also go a long way to developing most of the skills you will need as a CTO.

We’re approaching the end of the year, a time that many people and organizations use to reflect on what they have accomplished and what they want to accomplish next year.  A good idea as part of your personal growth is to use the list above and score yourself as honestly as possible in terms of skills.  If you’re missing some of them make sure you have some goals in place that help you acquire a few more of these each year. Do this and not only will succeed one of the important jobs that lead to the CTO job but when you do arrive at the CTO position you will be one of the successful ones.