Thought Leadership series – Dave Bolton, CTO @ Domain

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Dave has 20 years experience building software and leading technology teams across multiple industries, with a particular focus on bringing world class software engineering to organisations undergoing digital transformations, with a special focus on tech and product collaboration, along with building cloud and Agile capabilities and mindsets, and sustainable technology platforms and products.

Dave Bolton, CTO @ Domain

What are your thoughts on the Sydney tech scene today and what has been the biggest game-changing moment over the past decade or so?

The Sydney tech scene is very healthy. We’re lucky to have several world class universities, a healthy startup and tech ecosystem, and an amazing city and surrounds which attracts people from all over the globe. 

The biggest change has been the startup funding that has flowed into the tech scene during the last decade. Having been around before the startup “scene”, the difference is palpable, where good ideas no longer have to rely on bootstrapping but can attract serious resources if required.

What challenges do you see the Sydney tech scene currently facing? And why do they happen?

There are many people who understand technology well enough to build things, but not enough people who truly have the mix of capabilities needed across technology, people and business to be super effective. Many specialists, not enough people with breadth. I just think this happens because people are specialising too much and too early, which industry tends to encourage in the desperation for skills in narrow areas. There is no patience for spending time on things outside core capabilities – for instance, really investing in people skills or learning how the business finances work, as just two examples.

What would you like to see changed to solve these challenges? What action can be taken – and who by?

The technology industry has done a bad job of developing leaders. Startups in particular really struggle to build leaders that can be successful past a certain scale. Sending people to conferences or having them read books on leadership is not enough (and even then I’m surprised by how many technologists are not investing in themselves by reading!) We desperately need existing leaders to be growing and developing new leaders, which means being very intentional about how we look to coach and nurture emerging leaders through all the hard things that happen while building a leadership career. 

Which skills do you think are most in demand across the Sydney tech scene? And which skills are we lacking?

This depends on many factors, but generally JavaScript, front end, and native mobile skills seem to be evergreen in demand. Increasingly data science and machine learning capabilities are very bankable.

What trends do you predict for 2020 and then for this decade?

Everyone in tech will need a working understanding of machine learning. We’re not always going to understand how the machine comes up with the answers, but we need to understand how we put the machine in a position to give us those answers, if that makes sense.

What excites you most about the future of your industry or the Sydney tech scene as a whole? 

It’s very exciting to think about the tremendous impact that quality data can have both for a business, but also the customer. Generally I believe that data will make customer experiences much better, though I understand why people are underwhelmed and even worried about data currently — it just seems to be used in cynical ways at the moment. As companies get better at focusing on customers, data will be used to make our lives better, not just for more profitable ads.

Which tech company (Australia or overseas) or individual do you admire and why? 

I’m going to pick something unusual: Condesa Electronics – a “tech” company that builds beautiful handcrafted DJ mixers in Adelaide. I’ve just received one after four months of semi-patiently waiting, and is an amazing piece of craftsmanship.

Recommend our readers a book, why did you enjoy it and who would benefit from reading it?

For people levelling up their career to where their peer group are no longer other technologists, but other functions, I can highly recommend Patty Azzarello’s Rise – I’ve bought more copies of Patty’s book for people than any other book in the last half dozen years. It’s got a lot of practical advice, not specifically about a technology career but a business leader’s career.

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