Upcoming tech hiring: CTO position split

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Upcoming tech hiring: CTO position split

Brion Vibber-3
I'm very excited to announce some new upcoming hiring for tech... I've
also posted this on our tech blog which is mirrored on Planet Wikimedia:

http://techblog.wikimedia.org/2009/08/cto-position-split/

--

Back in 2005, Wikimedia brought me on as the Foundation's first paid
employee after two years leading MediaWiki development as a volunteer.
Naturally as the *only* member of the tech staff, I started at the top:
Chief Technology Officer.

In the 4 years since, we've gone from one tech employee to a dozen, from
50 servers to 350, from upstart novelty to established web juggernaut.

As our operations and our staff have grown over the years, so have my
responsibilities. Beefing up our tech staff is in some ways just like
adding servers to our data center -- we can get more things done with
less task switching, but scaling still has its overhead.

With the increase in administrative and organizational duties, I've been
less and less able to devote time to the part of the job that's nearest
and dearest to me: working with our volunteer developer community and
end users -- Wikimedians and other MediaWiki users alike -- who have
bugs, patches, features, ideas, complaints, hopes and dreams that need
attention.

The last thing I want to be is a bottleneck that prevents our users from
getting what they need, or our open source developers from being able to
participate effectively!

Multicore brain upgrades aren't yet available, so to keep us running at
top speed I've suggested, and gotten Sue & Erik's blessing on, splitting
out the components of my current CTO role into two separate positions:

As Senior Software Architect, I...
* maintain the MediaWiki development roadmap
* give timely feedback and review on feature ideas, patches and commits
* ensure that end-users and bug reporters are treated respectfully and
that their needs are met
* get developers & users involved and talking at local and worldwide
events as well as online
* represent the "face of the developers" interacting with our user
community (both Wikimedians and third-party MediaWiki users)

As CTO, I...
* set high-level strategic priorities with the rest of WMF
* handle administrative management for the Wikimedia Foundation's
technical department & internal IT
** budgeting
** vendor relations & purchase approval
** hiring & personnel details
* work with the fundraising side of WMF to seek out and make use of
potential resources:
** grants for projects we need
** in-kind donations of infrastructure
** sharing development work with like-minded orgs
* ensure that the operations team has what they need to address current
and predictable future site needs
* ensure that the developers have what they need and are coding smoothly
* plan and implement internship programs and volunteer dev events both
on-site and elsewhere


I'll continue to act in both roles until we've found a satisfactory
candidate to fill the CTO position (full job description will go up
soon), at which point I'll be freed up to concentrate on being a
full-time Senior Software Architect. (Yes, I'll review your patch!)

I will of course continue to work closely with our eventual CTO... the
idea is to find someone who'll make the decisions I would have wanted to
if I only had time. ;)

-- brion vibber (brion @ wikimedia.org)
CTO, Wikimedia Foundation
San Francisco


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Re: Upcoming tech hiring: CTO position split

Erik Moeller-4
Thank you for the update, Brion. You've been effectively wearing every
hat there is to wear for a person with technical skills in the
Wikimedia Foundation. That's an enormously challenging set of
responsibilities, and you've managed them very well, both in good
times and in emergency-crisis-mode-times. ;-)

Please note that nothing is going to change immediately, and we won't
hire a candidate for the CTO position unless and until we're happy
that it can work. We'll of course also clearly define the
responsibilities of the two positions.

Brion, thank you for taking this step, and for all your hard work over
the years doing an impossible job. :-)
--
Erik Möller
Deputy Director, Wikimedia Foundation

Support Free Knowledge: http://wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/Donate

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Re: Upcoming tech hiring: CTO position split

Thomas Dalton
In reply to this post by Brion Vibber-3
I think this is a fantastic idea. I think the biggest problem the tech
side of the WMF has had over the last year or two has been
prioritisation and splitting the job like this should help that no
end.

I'm curious - would the Senior Software Architect report to the CTO?
If so, that means Brion has, technically speaking, proposed his own
demotion - there aren't many people big enough to do that!

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Re: Upcoming tech hiring: CTO position split

Brion Vibber-3
On 8/7/09 11:12 AM, Thomas Dalton wrote:
> I think this is a fantastic idea. I think the biggest problem the tech
> side of the WMF has had over the last year or two has been
> prioritisation and splitting the job like this should help that no
> end.
>
> I'm curious - would the Senior Software Architect report to the CTO?
> If so, that means Brion has, technically speaking, proposed his own
> demotion - there aren't many people big enough to do that!

It sure beats letting the organization succumb to the
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Principle :)

-- brion

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Re: Upcoming tech hiring: CTO position split

Robert Rohde
In reply to this post by Thomas Dalton
On Fri, Aug 7, 2009 at 11:12 AM, Thomas Dalton<[hidden email]> wrote:
> I think this is a fantastic idea. I think the biggest problem the tech
> side of the WMF has had over the last year or two has been
> prioritisation and splitting the job like this should help that no
> end.
>
> I'm curious - would the Senior Software Architect report to the CTO?
> If so, that means Brion has, technically speaking, proposed his own
> demotion - there aren't many people big enough to do that!

Without changing anything else about this proposal, I'd like to
suggest that Brion's job title come with a more imposing description
than "Senior".  For example "Chief", "Lead", or "Head" Software
Architect.  There is only one Brion, and I assume he will remain
singularly important in his role overseeing software development (even
if he gets a new boss).  By contrast large corporations often have
many people who are titled "Senior" this-or-that but are still
relatively unimportant.

-Robert Rohde

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Re: Upcoming tech hiring: CTO position split

Michael Snow-3
Robert Rohde wrote:

> On Fri, Aug 7, 2009 at 11:12 AM, Thomas Dalton<[hidden email]> wrote:
>  
>> I think this is a fantastic idea. I think the biggest problem the tech
>> side of the WMF has had over the last year or two has been
>> prioritisation and splitting the job like this should help that no
>> end.
>>
>> I'm curious - would the Senior Software Architect report to the CTO?
>> If so, that means Brion has, technically speaking, proposed his own
>> demotion - there aren't many people big enough to do that!
>>    
> Without changing anything else about this proposal, I'd like to
> suggest that Brion's job title come with a more imposing description
> than "Senior".  For example "Chief", "Lead", or "Head" Software
> Architect.  There is only one Brion, and I assume he will remain
> singularly important in his role overseeing software development (even
> if he gets a new boss).  By contrast large corporations often have
> many people who are titled "Senior" this-or-that but are still
> relatively unimportant.
>  
So you're suggesting we should join in the rampant title inflation of
corporate America, where everyone is a Sr. Executive Vice-President of
something? Anyway, your assessment of Brion's ongoing significance to
our operations is perceptive, and I hope everyone else maintains that
understanding. And to address the question of title a little more
seriously, I'm not sure the issue is that critical, but we'll certainly
take the feedback into consideration as the organizational structure of
the technical team gets defined more clearly.

--Michael Snow

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Re: Upcoming tech hiring: CTO position split

Thomas Dalton
2009/8/7 Michael Snow <[hidden email]>:
> So you're suggesting we should join in the rampant title inflation of
> corporate America, where everyone is a Sr. Executive Vice-President of
> something? Anyway, your assessment of Brion's ongoing significance to
> our operations is perceptive, and I hope everyone else maintains that
> understanding. And to address the question of title a little more
> seriously, I'm not sure the issue is that critical, but we'll certainly
> take the feedback into consideration as the organizational structure of
> the technical team gets defined more clearly.

It's not really title inflation to give someone that is in charge of
something a title which says that.

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Re: Upcoming tech hiring: CTO position split

Erik Moeller-4
2009/8/7 Thomas Dalton <[hidden email]>:
> It's not really title inflation to give someone that is in charge of
> something a title which says that.

Our approach to job titles actually has an emerging basic pattern. :-)
It's not 100% consistent because we sometimes have stuck with commonly
used titles like "Office Manager" and "General Counsel", but generally
one we try to follow:

"Chief" positions = senior level positions with direct reports and
departmental budgets;
"Head of" positions = positions with their own budget, and sometimes
1-2 direct reports, reporting to a c-level position
"Senior" positions = positions requiring significant experience;
positions w/ high influence and sometimes direct reports

As you can see from the current tech department, it's unusual in that
it doesn't currently have any "Head of" roles with the exception of IT
support. With that same exception, the budget is at present centrally
managed by Brion.

We're considering multiple approaches to division, including the
introduction of a "Head of Operations" role for all site ops, and
that'll be a conversation that we'll have with the new CTO. We may or
may not revisit the job title for Brion's new role at that point, and
he continues to serve as the CTO until then.
--
Erik Möller
Deputy Director, Wikimedia Foundation

Support Free Knowledge: http://wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/Donate

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Re: Upcoming tech hiring: CTO position split

Gregory Maxwell
On Fri, Aug 7, 2009 at 5:19 PM, Erik Moeller<[hidden email]> wrote:
> Our approach to job titles actually has an emerging basic pattern. :-)
> It's not 100% consistent because we sometimes have stuck with commonly
> used titles like "Office Manager" and "General Counsel", but generally
> one we try to follow:
[snip]


It's not bad to have an internal pattern, but I think it's more
important to match the practices in industry.

By containing the magic words "senior" and "architect" the proposed
"Senior Software Architect" is, in my experience, not inconsistent
with industry naming practice for the most important tech guru who
isn't primarily a manager.

It's not a bad title in any case.

(I was previously a manager and made a decision to hire a boss because
I realized I'd rather be doing technical work than performance
reviews.  These days I'm just a lowly 'Senior … Engineer', and I'm
quite happy with that, thank you very much)

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Re: Upcoming tech hiring: CTO position split

David Gerard-2
2009/8/7 Gregory Maxwell <[hidden email]>:

> It's not bad to have an internal pattern, but I think it's more
> important to match the practices in industry.
> By containing the magic words "senior" and "architect" the proposed
> "Senior Software Architect" is, in my experience, not inconsistent
> with industry naming practice for the most important tech guru who
> isn't primarily a manager.


If, God forbid, Brion ever has to write a resume, it just has to say
"http://wikipedia.org/ , got it?" and an address to back the
dumptrucks full of money up to.


- d.

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Re: Upcoming tech hiring: CTO position split

Robert Rohde
In reply to this post by Gregory Maxwell
On Fri, Aug 7, 2009 at 2:35 PM, Gregory Maxwell<[hidden email]> wrote:

> On Fri, Aug 7, 2009 at 5:19 PM, Erik Moeller<[hidden email]> wrote:
>> Our approach to job titles actually has an emerging basic pattern. :-)
>> It's not 100% consistent because we sometimes have stuck with commonly
>> used titles like "Office Manager" and "General Counsel", but generally
>> one we try to follow:
> [snip]
>
> It's not bad to have an internal pattern, but I think it's more
> important to match the practices in industry.
>
> By containing the magic words "senior" and "architect" the proposed
> "Senior Software Architect" is, in my experience, not inconsistent
> with industry naming practice for the most important tech guru who
> isn't primarily a manager.
>
> It's not a bad title in any case.
<snip>

I would like to note that it isn't just internal naming schemes and/or
industry conventions that matter.  Brion is also engaged in a
significant amount of interaction with external communities, including
the volunteer developers and the Mediawiki user base.  In that
context, I think a description such as "head" or "lead" would help
explain his role more clearly than "senior" does.

Anyway, that's my two cents.

-Robert Rohde

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Re: Upcoming tech hiring: CTO position split

Aryeh Gregor
It's great to hear this.  We've really been lacking in senior
developer time for the last year or two, and I hope we can put an end
to that!

On Fri, Aug 7, 2009 at 5:58 PM, Robert Rohde<[hidden email]> wrote:
> I would like to note that it isn't just internal naming schemes and/or
> industry conventions that matter.  Brion is also engaged in a
> significant amount of interaction with external communities, including
> the volunteer developers and the Mediawiki user base.  In that
> context, I think a description such as "head" or "lead" would help
> explain his role more clearly than "senior" does.

Well, we can still informally call him the lead developer.

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Re: Upcoming tech hiring: CTO position split

Thomas Dalton
In reply to this post by David Gerard-2
2009/8/7 David Gerard <[hidden email]>:

> 2009/8/7 Gregory Maxwell <[hidden email]>:
>
>> It's not bad to have an internal pattern, but I think it's more
>> important to match the practices in industry.
>> By containing the magic words "senior" and "architect" the proposed
>> "Senior Software Architect" is, in my experience, not inconsistent
>> with industry naming practice for the most important tech guru who
>> isn't primarily a manager.
>
>
> If, God forbid, Brion ever has to write a resume, it just has to say
> "http://wikipedia.org/ , got it?" and an address to back the
> dumptrucks full of money up to.

It's not just about resumes, it's also about being taken seriously
when communicating with others. A "Head Software Architect" will
probably be taken more seriously than a "Senior Software Architect",
since the former shows you are the boss, that latter could be one of
many.

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Re: Upcoming tech hiring: CTO position split

Thomas Dalton
In reply to this post by Aryeh Gregor
2009/8/7 Aryeh Gregor <[hidden email]>:
> Well, we can still informally call him the lead developer.

We can informally call him "Brion". It's worked up until now!

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Re: Upcoming tech hiring: CTO position split

Brion Vibber-3
In reply to this post by Thomas Dalton
On 8/7/09 3:06 PM, Thomas Dalton wrote:
> It's not just about resumes, it's also about being taken seriously
> when communicating with others. A "Head Software Architect" will
> probably be taken more seriously than a "Senior Software Architect",
> since the former shows you are the boss, that latter could be one of
> many.

Having many folks at that level is be a condition dearly to be wished for!

-- brion

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Re: Upcoming tech hiring: CTO position split

James Forrester-5
2009/8/7 Brion Vibber <[hidden email]>:
> On 8/7/09 3:06 PM, Thomas Dalton wrote:
>> It's not just about resumes, it's also about being taken seriously
>> when communicating with others. A "Head Software Architect" will
>> probably be taken more seriously than a "Senior Software Architect",
>> since the former shows you are the boss, that latter could be one of
>> many.
>
> Having many folks at that level is be a condition dearly to be wished for!

Well, in my experience it shows that the organisation's overall
architecture is poorly thought-out, and with insufficient resource
expenditure on correcting it (or, for that matter, stopping the rot
getting even worse). But yes. :-)

J.
--
James D. Forrester
[hidden email] | [hidden email]
[[Wikipedia:User:Jdforrester|James F.]]

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Re: Upcoming tech hiring: CTO position split

Brion Vibber-3
In reply to this post by Gregory Maxwell
On 8/7/09 2:35 PM, Gregory Maxwell wrote:

> By containing the magic words "senior" and "architect" the proposed
> "Senior Software Architect" is, in my experience, not inconsistent
> with industry naming practice for the most important tech guru who
> isn't primarily a manager.
>
> It's not a bad title in any case.
>
> (I was previously a manager and made a decision to hire a boss because
> I realized I'd rather be doing technical work than performance
> reviews.  These days I'm just a lowly 'Senior … Engineer', and I'm
> quite happy with that, thank you very much)

Exactly.

Now, if we really think of a _totally badass title_ before we get the
business cards printed up I'm open to changing it, but honestly I like
it and it fits the role I see for myself just fine. :)

Remember... titles are only useful when they're actually descriptive;
otherwise they're just fluff. Certainly when I'm doing hiring I'm far
more interested in asking what somebody did at their previous job than
in what it was called...

-- brion

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Re: Upcoming tech hiring: CTO position split

Brion Vibber-3
In reply to this post by James Forrester-5
On 8/7/09 3:39 PM, James Forrester wrote:

> 2009/8/7 Brion Vibber<[hidden email]>:
>> On 8/7/09 3:06 PM, Thomas Dalton wrote:
>>> It's not just about resumes, it's also about being taken seriously
>>> when communicating with others. A "Head Software Architect" will
>>> probably be taken more seriously than a "Senior Software Architect",
>>> since the former shows you are the boss, that latter could be one of
>>> many.
>>
>> Having many folks at that level is be a condition dearly to be wished for!
>
> Well, in my experience it shows that the organisation's overall
> architecture is poorly thought-out, and with insufficient resource
> expenditure on correcting it (or, for that matter, stopping the rot
> getting even worse). But yes. :-)

Well ideally it would be because we really do have that much work to
do... ;)

-- brion

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Re: Upcoming tech hiring: CTO position split

George William Herbert
On Fri, Aug 7, 2009 at 3:42 PM, Brion Vibber<[hidden email]> wrote:

> On 8/7/09 3:39 PM, James Forrester wrote:
>> 2009/8/7 Brion Vibber<[hidden email]>:
>>> On 8/7/09 3:06 PM, Thomas Dalton wrote:
>>>> It's not just about resumes, it's also about being taken seriously
>>>> when communicating with others. A "Head Software Architect" will
>>>> probably be taken more seriously than a "Senior Software Architect",
>>>> since the former shows you are the boss, that latter could be one of
>>>> many.
>>>
>>> Having many folks at that level is be a condition dearly to be wished for!
>>
>> Well, in my experience it shows that the organisation's overall
>> architecture is poorly thought-out, and with insufficient resource
>> expenditure on correcting it (or, for that matter, stopping the rot
>> getting even worse). But yes. :-)
>
> Well ideally it would be because we really do have that much work to
> do... ;)
>
> -- brion

My eleven cents -

My consulting company gets brought in a lot to deal with this type of
growth in commercial companies (few have this big a web presence, but
operations concepts are operations concepts).

Titles are important to some people (above in senior leadership, at
level where people are sensitive about their title, below where line
staff sometimes behave differently depending on management titles).
Some people not so much.  Either way works, but it does matter to know
your own staff, leadership, and candidates mindsets.

Separating out development lead role (engineering) from operations
lead role is an important step.  Second, and not too far behind, is
usually separating out internal IT from web-facing operations - two
very different environments and sets of customer expectations, and
usually best served by different people and team leads.

A good CTO / operations candidate will be able to look at the way WMF
is operating those teams now and try to suggest paths forwards for
those two functional roles etc.

I believe some internal staff are focusing on office IT now, and a lot
of the website operations people are volunteer.

I suspect you're going to have to be prepared to do a lot of internal
discovery and discovery with potential hires to show them the web ops
side - it's not well documented now (I keep meaning to find out more
about the ops team and finding I have no time to join the IRC channel
24x7 ;-P ).  The team seems to function well - servers seem decently
stable - but it's not clear to me if the process and documentation is
up to industry standards for large website operations.  At some point
tribal knowledge has to yield to documentation and process and
organizational knowledge.


--
-george william herbert
[hidden email]

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Re: Upcoming tech hiring: CTO position split

Ray Saintonge
In reply to this post by David Gerard-2
David Gerard wrote:

> 2009/8/7 Gregory Maxwell:
>  
>> It's not bad to have an internal pattern, but I think it's more
>> important to match the practices in industry.
>> By containing the magic words "senior" and "architect" the proposed
>> "Senior Software Architect" is, in my experience, not inconsistent
>> with industry naming practice for the most important tech guru who
>> isn't primarily a manager.
>>    
> If, God forbid, Brion ever has to write a resume, it just has to say
> "http://wikipedia.org/ , got it?" and an address to back the
> dumptrucks full of money up to.

Inflation has set in since the time he could be bought off for a new
laptop. :-)

Ec

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