The Changing Role of CTOs

shifterI recently attended the ISTE Conference in Denver. There was somewhere north of 14,000 educators from across the globe who made the trek to the mile-high city for this behemoth ed tech conference. Generally speaking, this conference is intended for teachers and other educational technology leaders to come learn, share ideas, and network with their peers. There’s also scads of vendors in the expo hall that are happy to bend your ear in exchange for some swag.

One session in particular that I found intriguing was titled The Changing Role of the Chief Technology Officer. It was a panel discussion featuring a who’s who list of speakers from around the ed tech world. This session resonated with me as I have made the transition from a very IT centric background into a position of leadership more focused on the core mission of our organization.

The modern CTO should be focused on the instructional needs of the district. ~Jeremy Shorr

The above quote from Jeremy came in the opening remarks of the session, but stuck with me throughout. Regardless of what vertical you work within, the same holds true. The person in charge of Technology should understand and relate to the core business. Too often we make technology the central focus, instead of applying it most effectively to our everyday operation. We must never lose sight of why we are using the technology. It is simply a tool we use to achieve our goals and move the organization forward.

It was helpful for me to be reminded of this principal. Having come from the “wires and pliers” world of IT it’s too easy to jump back into the technical side of things when the situation warrants. It reminds me of the 2006 film Firewall with Harrison Ford, where he plays the role of a CTO at a major bank. In one particular scene he jumps on the command line and crafts a firewall rule to thwart would-be be hackers, all while a rookie engineer watches in amazement. IT is never that glamorous, but with Harrison Ford at the keyboard there had to be some panache.

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