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How Being a Parent Makes Me a Better CTO—and Vice Versa

  |  Frederic Rivain

I’m the father of three little girls, ages nine, six, and two. I’m also the CTO of a budding tech company, managing an engineering team of about 50. You might think that these two roles are constantly in conflict (and you might be right), but I’ve come to realize and appreciate that there are lots of parallels between being a parent and being a CTO.

While it’s surprisingly hard to narrow it down to just a few points, I’ve identified four main areas of overlap between my parental and managerial duties. Success at home in these areas can translate to success at work—and vice versa.

1. Motivate and Empower Your Team

As parents or as managers, one of our goals is to get our “team”—juvenile or otherwise—to improve on their own and become confident and autonomous. Ironically, this requires constant and persistent involvement.

As a CTO, it’s my role to coach my team members, guide them, and help them get better. I praise them when progress is made and provide constructive feedback (and sometimes a small push) when things are not going well.

Obviously, this is very different from my kids, but there are similarities. How I get them to keep a tidy room, do their homework on their own, and help with chores around the house are great ways to exercise different motivational strategies. It requires a balance of praise and push—and finding fun ways to approach each exercise and keep them motivated without frustrating them.

CTO and Parent: How to Motivate Children and Stay Organized at Work

How I motivate my children (left), and how I stay organized at work (right) – notice the similarities?

2. Manage for the Short Term, Lead for the Long Term

As a CTO or technical manager, I need to manage the short term, but I must also lead for the long term. It’s important to step back from the daily routine to anticipate the future, use my position to see trends and needs, and stay organized for the greater good.

All technical leaders should find the time to reflect on where they want the team to go from a technical and organizational perspective in order to support the future business needs of the company. They must also build a vision for the team and for each member individually.

As parents, we want what’s best for our children, so we also think ahead: Which high school will they go to? What are their strengths and weaknesses, and how do we help them nurture those strengths and overcome those weaknesses? How can we be more financially responsible, so we can pay for their education?

3. Be Super Organized

Being super organized is the only way I can manage my time efficiently and accommodate everyone’s needs.

At home, my wife and I have shared Google calendars that give us an overall view of everybody’s schedule during the week. Music lessons for one overlap with school letting out for the other and daycare pick up for the third, so we must make sure that we—and our trusty babysitter—are on top of it every day. If one little thing goes wrong, we must have already thought about Plan B.

As funny as it sounds, this is very similar to the role of a CTO. I make myself as available as possible to everybody: my team, my peers, internal and external stakeholders, and myself—and I always must have backup plans.

My calendar sometimes looks like a Tetris puzzle, but that’s part of the role. Just like with my kids, I’ve learned how to prioritize the urgent vs. the important. I build in buffers to account for unplanned interruptions. Conversely, I’ve also had to learn how to turn everybody else off, so I can focus and contribute. I usually block one- or two-hour chunks in my calendar for that specific reason.

This is one of the hardest challenges for developers that move into management roles: finding the right balance between technical contribution and management activities.

4. Remember the Hard Work Is Worth the Reward

Finally, being a CTO and a parent is both hard and rewarding. It’s hard because when things go well, your team and your kids will likely take it for granted. On the other hand, every little difficulty can become a source of complaints or blame.

People don’t usually come to me if they are happy and everything is fine. Being a CTO is often a thankless job—same as being a parent.

But there are few joys or rewards greater than seeing your team members grow, get more senior, more confident, and be fulfilled by their work. I still remember an email from an ex-colleague of mine who wrote to me after leaving the company and thanking me for everything I had taught him and how he felt very confident in his new adventure.

It’s a similar feeling to when your children learn how to walk, talk, read, and eventually become confident enough to succeed without you holding their hand every step of the way.

So even though my life can be stressful, balancing trying to be a great parent to my children and husband to my wife vs. trying to accomplish everything I aspire to accomplish at my job, I learn lessons every day—at home and at work—that help me improve in both of my roles. And I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

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