Job interview | Aurel: Chief Technical Officer (CTO) at theTribe

by | Culture / Organization

Aurel is CTO (Chief Technical Officer) at theTribe in Nantes since January 2021, after a rich and original professional career. In this interview, he presents his vision of his job as CTO: daily life, advantages, difficulties and challenges of this central position in the organisation.

Hello Aurel! Can you tell us about your background?

Since January 2021, I am the CTO(Chief Technical Officer) of the Nantes tribe at theTribe. Before that, I had a rather eclectic and generalist career path, which means that I find myself in this "jack-of-all-trades" position.

Indeed, I followed a university course in the Universities of Bordeaux (Science and Technique and Montaigne), during which I dabbled in languages, computer science, and archaeology!

I have worn many hats in my life: webmaster and amateur developer in video games, freelance web developer, contract archaeologist, employed developer, lead developer and software architect. I am often asked about the coherence between archaeology and development. It's true that it's not obvious, and yet... There are certain elements that I remember:

  • the need for professionalism: producing knowledge before it is lost forever, producing value without bugs...
  • satisfy my curiosity, discover and learn: investigate past civilisations, solve business problems to meet a user need...
  • the importance of teamwork: sharing techniques and knowledge, guiding and accompanying the team through good and bad times, inspiring and motivating the team to keep improving...

Nice job! Let's get back to the present: what does the position of CTO at theTribe entail?

CTO at theTribe is not the same as in any other company: in fact, no CTO position is really the same, I think. But it's true that the CTO job is mostly known in companies that develop products: software, applications, platforms... 

At theTribe, we don't provide a product, we provide expertise to our clients.

In this particular context, my main tasks are :

  • To grow the team, to support and provide a favourable environment for the progression of everyone (developers and non-developers); 
  • Tobe the guarantor of the quality of the projects delivered, to put in place good practices and to promote continuous improvement;
  • To give a vision and participate in the construction of a technical culture of excellence in Nantes, and more generally in the company ( Agile values and principles, Software Crafts(wo)manship, DevOps, Lean and in particularExtreme Programming techniques which have been proving their worth for two decades...).

Do you continue to develop as you manage and move up the ladder? How is your typical day organised?

Yes, I continue to code, mainly in peer-programming: that is to say that I make myself available to any developer for two half-days a week to share, to advance together on a subject .

I also intervene in support when a hot topic comes up - although I don't prefer it, because it shouldn't happen! 

Finally, I also develop on internal subjects, or to prepare training courses and presentations.

Apart from the really technical part, a large part of my time is dedicated to the members of the tribe from a human point of view. In particular, I make sure that everyone has what they need to develop and progress : Moving Motivators workshops to discuss areas for improvement, mentoring, coaching, etc.

My other tasks are more organisational: reflections on recruitment processes and candidate interviews, knowledge capitalisation, setting up communities of practice, experimentation and reflections on continuous improvement... 

As a result, I don't really have a typical day: I deal with issues by prioritising them according to the needs and the value brought to each individual and to the company, and according to short, medium and long term priorities.

What do you like about your work?

There are two main areas of satisfaction in my work: firstly, the human aspect and the great autonomy needed to allocate my time to the subjects I consider to be priorities. 

The human aspect, becausehelping others to progress, to get through a difficult moment, sharing our knowledge, moving forward together... This is essential when working in a team so that everyone can give their best. 

Autonomy, because I need tohave an impact and find meaning in what I do. This freedom is fundamental, so that I can invest in the subjects that move the tribe forward on a technical, methodological or organisational level.

More generally, the wide variety of tasks involved in the CTO position is a fulfilling element for me. I love learning and discovering new subjects, new problems and new solutions.

What qualities do you think a CTO should have?

In my opinion, a CTO must be able to adapt to contexts, to people. 

It is necessary to have, define and share a long-term vision with others, and to adapt very quickly to everyday situations. 

The qualities that are essential depend on the specific context of each company, but if I had to mention a few, the ones that come to mind are: autonomy, strategic vision, curiosity and benevolence

What do you think is the biggest challenge in the daily life of a CTO?

Personally, what I have the most problems with is what is called context switching: the fact that I often have to switch from one subject to another all the time. It is certainly exhilarating, but also very tiring!

And then, it can be difficult to unite around the vision proposed to the team, so that everyone takes responsibility and the CTO finally becomes "dispensable". What I'm saying here may seem provocative, but in an ideal world, we should be able to do without a CTO! Because the teams would be mature enough to collectively take on the responsibilities of a CTO.

What technologies do you work with?

I am primarily a frontend and backend Javascript developer. Before 2010 and the first versions of NodeJS, I was more on Python backend. 

Today, for the comfort of teamwork (homogenization, transpilation, ...) I've rather switched to Typescript (but I'm waiting for the release of tuples & records in Javascript, which will be a game-changer). 

It's not my favourite domain at the beginning, but I developed a strong taste for infrastructure and Cloud with technologies like Docker, Ansible and HashiCorp tools(Terraform, ...). 

Apart from theTribe, I am interested in all functional languages, starting with Haskell, but also Erlang/Elixir, Elm, Scala, F#... 

In terms of databases, I work mainly with Postgres but also MongoDB and ElasticSearch.

What are the upcoming challenges at theTribe, from a technical point of view? 

The technical issues at theTribe are multiple, but interrelated .

We have our strengths and weaknesses, like all companies and teams. The idea is therefore to capitalise on our strengths (individual talents, solidarity, benevolence) and toimprove our weaknesses .

The main challenge is to keep improving, even when it is difficult. So we need to get to the next level, and we've identified some levers:

  • Structure our working methods to deliver more value, faster. There are subjects on which we can improve, to be even more effective and efficient: Extreme Programming, Lean, True Agile, Software Craftsmanship, DevOps...
  • Sharpen our techniques to ensure the impeccable quality that our customers deserve:
    • Behavior-Driven Development to capture the need even better
    • Test-Driven Development to design solutions in an even better way
    • Port & Adapter Pattern to adapt even more smoothly to changes
    • Domain-Driven Design so that our code breathes business
  • Better capitalise on the knowledge of each individual, and further improve the learning of the organisation as a whole(Smart Company and Knowledge Management).

What advice would you give to someone who wants to grow and become a CTO?

At the moment, I don't have the necessary distance and experience to give relevant advice... 

But still, there is one piece of advice that comes to mind: make up your own mind, by trying. CTO is one of those jobs that are very contextual: type of company, type of products/services, size of the company... Again, no two CTO jobs are alike!

But you have to be aware that this is a managerial position (in the good sense of the word) rather than a technical one. You spend less time coding, and more time coaching. You have to be ready for that.

Florian Compain

Florian Compain

Chief Marketing Officer @theTribe

Why don't we talk?