Life as a Chief Technology Officer


Given its often impossible (even within the same team) to understand the challenges of colleagues in different roles, so I thought it’d be a good idea to ask ex-collegues and aquaintenaces to do some digging! This is the first of these series, where I get the views of various members of IT departments across the UK, to understand their roles, their challenges, adapting to the changing technology landscape and the difficult times affecting their times as the pandemic affects all businesses. The first of these is with Dan Pass, CTO of 1st Stop Group, a well-established finance firm based out of Blackpool, UK.

Round 1: About you

Name: Daniel Pass
Role: CTO
Business: 1st Stop Group (consumer credit firm)
Favourite thing to do outside work: Write music and learn new things!
Guilty pleasure: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. 20 years of Noo Yawkers solvin’ crimes!

Round 2: Your job

Dan, you’ve done pretty much everything in IT in your career, right the way up to the role you do today. Can you tell us a bit about your career and your rise to CTO please?

I first used a computer at age 11 and was fascinated with it: A ZX81 that belonged to a friend of mine. My focussed fascination with technology stemmed from there. Following a tumultuous period in secondary school (banned from the computer lab for socially engineering the admin password for our Nimbus Windows for Workgroups), I landed a sales job for a local firm. Not quite what I had planned but it taught me to understand
people more than anything else.

For you youngsters, this is how us cool kids used to roll…

I pivoted out of sales to optics engineering (I did physics in the end), working for a start up in Cambridge. We got hit with the Nimda virus. It effectively shut us down. I said “oh I can fix that, give me the weekend”. I was bullish but also naive so in the end I rang an old friend and got advice: “everything off the network and antivirus everything”. With that fixed, I became the one man IT team at 25 years old. Finally on the career path! Over the following four years I learned networking, security, infrastructure, desktops, web code, scripts, and even MS Exchange. If it blinked, it was probably mine.

I then moved onto a 2nd line engineer role for a growing telco, 3rd line, project technical lead, junior architect. I then moved onto a FTSE 100 hosting provider/telco in an enterprise architecture role for four years. That was a serious culture shock: moving from 100 of your own endpoints to 10s of 1000s of everyone elses! Bridged into head of product development to gain more management exposure (and commercial knowledge). Being on the vendor side is fascinating when you have always been the customer.

Was lucky to be offered roles as a chief architect for two years and technical director for two years in a well known high street bookmaker. Hugely challenging environment with the volume of change, and real time nature. Brilliant experience. Some of the smartest people I have ever worked with came from there.

My current role is a CTO role for a SME lender in the North West. I set myself that goal when I was late 20’s. Why? So I could translate my experience from the aforementioned roles into better supporting my teams (both board and technical) and understand both sides of the partnership.

Sorry Dan, couldn’t resist a vaguely relevant MEME…

Its fair to say, from my experience people will have more respect for someone who has ‘been there and done that’… I reckon you qualify Dan! Which was / is your favourite role, and which one would you loath to do again?

I have loved and loathed all roles equally. Nostalgia often finds me reminiscing about building kit in data centres, writing code, or coming up with a solution for a complex problem. Would I want to do that again? Maybe not so much these days!

I love how Dan talks about about reminisicing about building kit, I reckon a quick chat with his missus would expose plenty of hardware in his ‘home office’…..

Dan, can you describe the day-to-day activities of a Chief Technology Officer, is it all meetings or is there more to it?

There is no real blueprint to what the day to day looks like, each role in each organisation is different. Mine? It varies depending on where we are in the month. For example: it could be regulatory (audit or risk), it could be strategic (product planning, marketing), or just chewing the fat with a stakeholder or group off. Then there is the other side: working alongside my brilliant team: code standards, frameworks, design patterns, issues, risks, new business initiatives, team health, emerging technology, team member aspirations and goals. It turns into a long but fun list. You have to avoid complacency, and assume that things will change. That is a good thing!

Round 3: Technology

I’ve had the pleasure working with Dan, albeit for a short time, however one thing that always stays with me was his infectious love for everything tech – he had every gadget known to man, and knew about just about anything I asked him. So lets see how he fairs in 2020….

Lets start with personal tech, what is in your arsenal at the moment, both at home and work?
iPhone 11 Pro, Apple Watch 4, multiple MacBooks, iPad Pro 11” + pencil, AirPods, QC35s noise cancelling headphones, Sonos, AWS, Ubiquiti, Amazon Echo, a bag of chargers, connectors, portable batteries, portable monitor (though Sidecar in MacOS + iPad Pro is going to retire that), the list is endless!

Crying out loud – you must be carrying a big bag!
Lets move into the enterprise tech world, what tech would you love to see the death of – but won’t go away?

Now this is where it gets controversial. I would like to see the real death of monolithic license costs/agreements, and overly expensive barriers to entry. If you want to stop a bookseller and a search engine eating your revenue, make it accessible.

Couldn’t agree more with that – make tech accessible, and the masses will use it. On the other side of the coin, what have you been playing with that you’re excited about?

So many things! TypeScript, Swift 5, AWS CDK, VueJS (2 and future 3), AWS DynamoDB, the latest toolsets for data machine learning (image processing, forecasting, NLP) and the “AI” commercial fronts (just put the AI buzzword aside and focus on the use of the services!). It is constantly changing and evolving everywhere. What excites me the most is accessiblity. More than ever we can place incredibly useful, and cool things into the hands of pretty much anyone. I am excited for the potential of 5G
networks, and the decoupling of the wire.

What excites me the most is accessiblity. More than ever we can place incredibly useful, and cool things into the hands of pretty much anyone.

Dan pass

We’ve has plenty of discussions on Twitter in the past on the obsession with cloud, serverless and goodness knows what else into a business just to keep up with the Jones’ – how frequently do you see this, and how do you avoid falling into the trap yourself?

Part of my role is pragmatism and a dose of cynicism/reality. While I see the strong opinions all the time: “you must do this, you cannot be seriously using that”… the reality is everyones at different stages. There is no real one size fits all solution. We would be naive and foolish to think that! Understand your business goals, your risk appetite, your skills/ambition, and balance those books. Be truly honest if that shiny new something is right for you, prove the theory first.
Build for production with capabilities that do not get an engineer out of bed, and are strong enough to being able to deploy/change on a Friday. 😉

Round 4: Covid-19 Pandemic

Like everyone worldwide, I have no doubt you’ve have your own challenges both personally and professionally due to the social distancing / isolation measures put in place over the past month or so.

So my first question around this, is what changes have you had to make within your business to ensure everything stays operational?

Like a lot of organisations, we have significant contingency plans in place, but this is truly unprecedented. First we had work out how to safeguard our colleagues working conditions, address how all teams can work remotely, regulatory needs, and then the huge kit / access logistics. We are a regulated business so must still adhere to very best standards and support our customers in the most difficult of times. It goes without saying that our entire 180+ workforce working remotely has been an incredible effort by both technology and non-technology teams alike. I could not be prouder of the IT teams quick thinking, persistence, and sheer grit.

I’ve heard plenty of fantastic stories of IT teams across the globe pulling together to keep the lights on. We’ve been extensively using video conferencing to make sure meeting and catchups feel a bit more ‘human’. I assume you guys have been doing similar, and if so have any of you happened to come across the Snap camera lenses? We’ve had a field day with them! One of my colleagues appeared as a toilet roll last Wednesday!

How have your team adjusted and what have they been focusing on to keep all your teams productive?

Our Slack and teams channels are abuzz with memes, check-ins, with lots of 1-2-1 and group calls. Communication is utterly key! We have always been a chatty group anyway, I think this might actually make it worse (in a good way!). Snap glasses are fun but the sooner MS teams to hurry up with the custom image backgrounds the better, so we can can all be on the millennium falcon or in the BAU offices!

Thats pretty much all I’ve got for you Dan, I’ll let you back to your day job now – have you got anything you’d like to say to your fans or colleagues?

That they are awesome, I am lucky to have been supporting them but also learning from them (and hopefully I give something back!). Never stop loving what you do.

I’d like to publically thank Dan for taking time out of his busy schedule to share his thoughts and insights. If any readers of this article have aspiratings to become a CTO, or are already a CTO, you could do a lot worse than taking a page out of this man’s book.

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