From code monkey to CEO

Volume 1: The Beginning

I want to start this off by saying that I don’t actually like the term “code monkey” – but I do want to give a shout-out to a great ’00s show called Code Monkeys. You should definitely check it out if you haven’t yet.

My love for technology and all things computer-related started early. My dad, no doubt just trying to keep a hyper-active kid occupied for a few minutes, made the mistake of introducing me to a really old MS-DOS based game called Frogger.

So there’s me, four years old, hooked on Frogger, and my life about to change forever.
Fast forward a few years and I started playing around with old-school HTML (on our dial-up modems … yes, I’m that old) – when I wasn’t ripping apart our family PC to understand how the insides worked – and by the time I was 15 I had moved on to Visual Basic.
My teenage years were basically one long fight with my parents, who desperately wanted me to spend more time outside – and all I wanted was to be in front of a PC, gaming, coding or learning.
I never could work out what made “outside” so great, anyway.

After high school, I went to university to embark on a career as a software developer.

Accountants make great CEOs. Finance: that’s what you study if you want to run your own business.
Want to be an entrepreneur? Study business or marketing.
Software developers are the guys you lock in the basement and feed an endless supply of pizza and coffee. They’re not social animals, they can’t talk to clients … they just want to play on their computers.

Right? Wrong.

I was fortunate in that my father is an entrepreneur, and I was exposed to that lifestyle at a young age. I saw what it meant to run your own business and I was able to surround myself with business owners and to learn from their experiences.
However, they all had that one thing in common: they were all what you’d call “finance guys” or “business guys”.

Where were the technical business owners?

I started to believe the rhetoric that, as a technically-minded person, my career would be in the shadows. Behind the curtain. I wouldn’t meet clients, I wouldn’t talk to users, I wouldn’t be involved in strategy.
I’d be the guy who wrote the code.

From the age of 18 to 25 I accepted this.
And then I was given opportunity to create something from nothing. It was successful, so I was given the opportunity to lead a team with free rein to innovate and tinker.
We were the masters of our own destiny and it felt good.
The funny thing? None of us were “finance guys” or “business guys”. We were all technical, and it worked.
This challenged my preconceived ideas of who was “allowed” to run companies.

When I turned 30 I decided to take a risk.
I left a great corporate job to partner with a few other crazy guys and start a software development company.
I was to be the CTO and look after the tech. I was over the moon.

The funny thing about a startup is that there are no roles, and there are no rules either.

You get your hands dirty wherever you can and wherever you’re needed, pulling together to try and make a success of a risk that statistically is more likely to end in failure than in success.
I started getting involved with clients; I started getting involved with concepts and pitches and, after a year, my business partners asked if I’d ever be interested in being the MD.

Me? The code monkey? The technical guy? But I wasn’t a “finance guy” and I wasn’t a “business guy”.
The thought had never occurred to me.

I said yes immediately.

And that’s why I wanted to start this little blog series which I’ve, with tongue in cheek, called “code monkey to CEO”. I want to share some of the challenges I’ve faced in the last four years; some of the mistakes I’ve made and some of the learnings I’ve been fortunate enough to acquire.

The world needs more technical leaders. Look around you, it’s happening. In Europe, America and Scandinavia, we’re seeing technical people taking CEO roles in successful companies. Some of the biggest tech companies in the world have technical people in top leadership positions.
And why shouldn’t they be?

Who better understands the possibilities, the complexities and the beauty of something than the person who created it?

I’m hoping to see this happen more and more in South Africa too. I’m not for one second suggesting you don’t partner with someone who has a complimentary skill-set; with someone who does come from a finance or commercial background.
You’re going to need help. You’re not going to make this a success on your own – no-one ever does.

So strap yourself in, get your pizza and your coffee ready, and let’s go from code monkey to CEO.

Photo by Warren Wong on Unsplash

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