10 questions for IntraLinks CTO John Landy
Find out about the challenges facing the modern CTO and how to oversee a large team like former software engineer John Landy
By Nancy Weil | Published: 14:49, 27 February 2012
Name: John Landy
Time with company: 4.5 years
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Education: Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, Lehigh University; Master of Science in Computer Science, Villanova University; MBA, Babson College
Company headquarters: New York City
Revenue: $184.3 million in 2010
Number of countries: About 15
Number of employees the CTO oversees: More than 50
About the company: IntraLinks is a global software-as-a-service (SaaS) provider, with products that help organisations securely manage content, exchange critical business information and collaborate. More than one million professionals in industries including financial services, pharmaceutical, biotechnology, consumer, energy, industrial, legal, insurance, real estate and technology, as well as government agencies, have utilised IntraLinks' cloud-based software.
1. Where did you start your career and what experiences led you to the job you have today?
I started my career working as a software engineer for a small telephony firm in New Jersey that built the software used for testing ISDN [Integrated Services Digital Network] switches. While I was there, I was lucky enough to learn many variants of Unix while developing components and tools to support the product offering. At the same time, I worked on and finished my master's degree.
It was an exciting time to be developing web software, and I felt I was building products that mattered. In the next 10 years, I moved between product and financial services companies, where I put my experience in IT enterprise architecture to work and developed a broader view of integrating products into a larger architecture.
2. Who was an influential boss for you and what lessons did they teach you about management and leadership?
I have been fortunate enough to work directly for both chief technology officers and a chief product officer, all of whom have taught me valuable lessons in leadership. My most influential boss isn't any one person but a composite of all them, who represent the key traits I have tried to emulate.
What I've learned from theses leaders is that you must focus on your clients, hire the right people and get out of their way, and be unafraid to make the wrong decision.
I learned at an early age that it is very important to manage the business by focusing on a client's needs: A solution is only worth what a client is willing to pay to obtain it.
I also spend a lot of time interviewing and networking to find the right mix of experienced, driven professionals and younger talent. Personal drive is more important to me than skills or degrees, and I try to filter that enthusiasm through the lens of our corporate culture. The lack of making a decision can be as devastating as over-analysing the perfect solution, an observation I first read in Voltaire and find rings true time and time again.
3. What are the biggest challenges facing CTOs today?
The specifics of a CTO's role are organisation-dependent, but the set of issues that we face as a role is universal. I would segment the problems we face into the areas of technology partner selection, managing this generation of employees, and corporate role identity.
Technology partner selection has become challenging for CTOs and CIOs because of the onslaught of vendors offering cloud solutions or who are building on top of cloud platforms. The challenge for CTOs is to identify solution partners who can lower your CapEx costs while still offering the type of control that you require to reduce risk - and make you look like a hero to the business.
I've also found that managing this generation of employees is complex, as they typically have a very mobile and social attitude mixed with a general sense of entitlement. The challenge lies in giving them the freedom to operate at work as they do at home, yet still manage the organisation's compliance needs effectively.
The identity of the CTO is a corporate misnomer. In most companies, other C-level executives imagine the typical CTO as wearing a helicopter beanie and a pencil protector.
4. What is a good day at work like for you?
I'm lucky in that my office is on the banks of the Mystic River. Besides the fact that I have to dodge the dead bodies in the river, I commute to work in the summer on my boat. I like to get it in early and start my day with client meetings to understand how our customers use our products, educate them on our road map, and help us prioritise our offerings. I manage a large team of very active individuals who often draw me into interesting R&D projects and performance and capacity items that need some brainstorming. Afternoons involve corporate meetings where we make strategic decisions around markets that we need to attack, and the day is capped off with a sunset ride home on the water.
5. How would you characterise your management style?
Firm but flexible. I manage a large number of senior technologists (read: divas) that need to be coaxed into believing that every idea that they ever had was the best one for the company.
The benefit of spending a large part of your career as an architect is that you learn to float good ideas out to a crowd and then never take credit for them - because you want development and operations teams to believe it was their idea. That is very similar to the role of a manager of senior technologists. Understand who is good at what type of project and get them on it. Repeat.
6. What strengths and qualities do you look for in job candidates?
Passion and drive are the top qualifications candidates must have to be successful at IntraLinks today. The reason why we hire new employees, at the end of the day, is because we believe they will make the company better through their will to succeed and win. Of course, we also need to hire the right level of experience that is required to do the job. I am a big believer in hiring a mix of experience on a team to bring industry best practices and life lessons as well as supplementing the team with more junior-level employees.
7. What are some of your favorite interview questions or techniques to elicit information to determine whether a candidate will be successful at your company? What sort of answers send up red flags for you and make you think a job candidate wouldn't be a good fit?
I always ask behavioural questions based on a current issue I'm having in the department. One sure-fire interview tactic I use is to have a candidate whiteboard a solution to me.
I want to be sure that a candidate can explain an idea to me - no matter what the idea is. I also like to have fun and learn about candidates during the interview process.
Two major red flags for me are when a candidate does not ask any questions and when a candidate doesn't smile during the interview process.
We like to work hard and have fun while doing it! I think it is important to hire people who are inquisitive, passionate and know how to have fun.
8. What is it about your current job, at this particular company, that sets it apart from other chief technology positions?
I'm very fortunate to be working for such an interesting, growing global company that develops and sells software to talented individuals. We work with C-level executives across many industries, including life sciences and alternative investments, giving us a chance to service the best of the best when it comes to global talent today. In addition to our clientele, we're also at the forefront of the move to cloud services, which means we attract and hire many talented senior technologists, which makes this job very fulfilling. Not only are our customers demanding innovative technology and leading-edge solutions, but also we're able to deliver them with entrepreneurial vigor.
9. What do you do to unwind from a hectic day?
I mainly enjoy running, but I also supplement that with winter sports, basketball, and even yoga.
Most of my free time involves reading and playing with my two children and/or family time at home with my wife. Work and travel can be so hectic that it is nice to just stay at home and recharge the batteries.
10. If you weren't doing this job, what would you be doing?
When I get closer to retirement age, I would someday like to teach business and computer science to the next generation. I've even recently purchased a blazer with elbow patches to make myself look more professorial.