CTO Sessions: Manjit Johal, AVORA

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? "I believe Virtual Reality is overhyped"

Name: Manjit Johal

Company: AVORA

Job title: CTO

Date started current role: September 2014

Location: London, UK

As Co-Founder and CTO of augmented analytics specialist, AVORA, Johal drives the company's overall technology vision. A strategic thinker with a strong engineering discipline, Johal has 17 years' experience as a software developer, leading and developing projects with budgets in the tens of millions, across an array of vertical sectors, such as Retail/eCommerce, Defence, Telecoms, Media and Finance. A passionate advocate for software development best practices and big data, Johal works at the point where business and technology convene to enhance product and solutions-based innovation.

What was your first job? Order picker in a warehouse.

Did you always want to work in IT? Yes - I got my first computer at the age of 12 and took to it straight away.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I have a degree in Computer Science with Software Engineering.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. Yes - I decided to leave tech for a while and do something totally different and so started buying old properties and renovating them. It was a big shift from what I was used to doing but I enjoyed working my hands learning a totally new set of skills and got to interact with a completely different group of people.

But as time went on, I realised I was spending more time reading about new technologies and visiting IT job boards, and less time searching for new properties. Eventually realised that my heart lied in the tech industry and so switched back.

What type of CTO are you? I wouldn't say that I fit into a particular category. I like to help push the technical strategy to help the company set it goals and also continually seek out technologies that will help it reach its goals. I also like to look to the future to stretch what is technically possible today to reach greater heights as a business. And I enjoy working closely with customers to ensure that that our services meet their requirements and to spot places where we could improve.

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? Deep Reinforcement Learning which will take AI to the next level and provide systems that can learn how to perform tasks through doing them rather than through historical data.

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? Why? I believe Virtual Reality is overhyped, a lot of investment has been made in this area but there are no real killer applications that would make it take off.

What is one unique initiative that you've employed over the last 12 months that you're really proud of? Anonymous retrospectives at the end of each development iteration, this has allowed us to receive honest feedback that team members would otherwise be reluctant to share.

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? No.

What is the biggest issue that you're helping customers with at the moment? How to help them handle the massive explosion of data and how to make better data driven decisions. Digital Transformation is also a big issue and a lot of our customers are at different stages through the process, so we are helping a lot in that context too.

How do you align your technology use to meet business goals? I think there are a number of foundations that need to be in place to ensure technology use is aligned

Communication is key - actively listening to business stakeholders to understand challenges and goals. Actively educating the board and senior management about the latest trends and opportunities. 

Closer collaboration between the different departments so that your delivery team have a better idea of what's actually happening client side.

Having a minimum viable product approach to quickly developing new features and tools to ensure faster feedback from customers.

Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy? No - the tech and product teams work together very closely which helps to avoid any troubles.

What makes an effective tech strategy? An effective strategy must establish clear goals that can be measured clearly against business objectives. It should also have steps in place to ensure adequate funding is available to execute. 

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? We live in a more globalised society and so CTO's of the future will have to get more comfortable working with a team that's distributed across multiple time zones and locations. Also, the pace of change is only going to continue to increase so the CTO in the future will have to be able to adapt to this.

What has been your greatest career achievement? Architecting and building the platform that underpins AVORA.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? I would have been braver and took the plunge to start a business at an earlier age. 

What are you reading now? 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari

Most people don't know that I… Love doing origami.

In my spare time, I like to…I like to go hiking, running and also do Muay Thai.

Ask me to do anything but… Watch talent shows.