CTO Sessions: Chris Wood, Spicy Mango

What is the biggest issue that you're helping customers with at the moment? "Metadata"

Name: Chris Wood

Company: Spicy Mango

Job title: CTO

Date started current role: January 2015

Location: London, UK

Chris Wood is the CTO of Spicy Mango, an expert media technology consulting and software delivery organisation. His career began when the worlds of IT and video were yet to merge. He has played a pivotal role in the early adoption of ABR technologies to drive OTT delivery worldwide through senior roles at organisations such as ITV, Inlet Technologies, Cisco Systems and Ericsson.

What was your first job? I started my IT career with the NHS working for the National Programme for IT (NPFit). My job was to visit local NHS practices and install infrastructure to support the new digital record keeping solution. It wasn't an easy first job and it involved a lot of driving around.

Did you always want to work in IT? I became really interested in IT when I did some work experience at a local university. I made an application asking if I could join the team for a few weeks after meeting someone that worked there. I got the job and was given the task of developing intranet pages in HTML 4 for Netscape Navigator. I absolutely loved it. It is worth remembering that there was no Google back then - only a great big hardback book that you had to scour through for help with the coding!

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I completed secondary school and college, making it through four A Levels in Computing, Maths, Physics and Music. I opted to bypass university because I got a job offer from ITV and I couldn't pass up the opportunity. In retrospect, I am very glad I opted for the path I did as I gained enough experience to start my own company. I also have professional certifications which I managed to gain during various projects, such as AWS, Price2 and ITIL.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. My job at ITV began right after Carlton and Granada merged. I was a technical analyst and began helping out with mail and systems migration. I started to work with video when video and IT started to merge, so I then became responsible for more broadcast-related work, such as supporting some of the first software onscreen graphic generators and automation systems. This was the start of the move to tapeless playout in broadcast! I then went on to hold senior positions in video at Cisco and Ericsson. In 2015 I founded Spicy Mango, an enterprise media technology consulting and software solutions delivery team.

What type of CTO are you? I am absolutely hands-on. I spend most of my days buried in admin, documents and PowerPoint but I still love playing with technology when I get a chance. However, it always seems to end up being late at night!

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? I'm very excited about deep machine learning and object recognition. Video is king but Metadata is queen. Metadata is really painful for the broadcast industry and is something we deal with on a day to day basis.

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? Why? Blockchain. It's a database with append-only permissions and a solution looking for a problem.

What is one unique initiative that you've employed over the last 12 months that you're really proud of? I've been pushing my team to optimise our logging and information capture processes as part of our engineering exercises. A lot of people put logging in place as standard, but I'm pretty sure that most have never had to go back and look at these logs to figure out what's going on. I've put a huge emphasis on good clean and clear logging processes. There's no doubt this has paid back hugely and our time to review issues and troubleshoot is now significantly expedited. If you haven't already, I'd advise every technical experienced leader to do a review of your logs to see if you can make sense of them.

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? Every day we deal with digital transformation. Every project we do is tied to a customer goal, usually around new capabilities, features or enhancements of a platform to drive revenue and subscriber base. We're entirely customer driven.

What is the biggest issue that you're helping customers with at the moment? Metadata. A few years ago, we were lucky enough to work on the Winter Games with Eurosport and developed some cool metadata technologies for real-time processing. We're seeing a lot of traction with large scale metadata aggregation for sports at the moment, so we're working hard on aggregation, normalisation and enrichment solutions.

How do you align your technology use to meet business goals? Again, being driven by customers and their needs always brings its own spin. We try to promote the benefits of specific technologies that we know and love. Most of the time, customers are open to these suggestions, but sometimes we have to bend and work in frameworks and platforms that they are familiar with.

Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy? I'm a big believer that technology should be developed to meet the needs of the product. We work hard to ensure that the tech we develop and deliver to customers meets the needs of the product and business. There are so many tech options to choose from now - our job is made a little easier - but also a little harder in having to adapt to so many new approaches every few months.

What makes an effective tech strategy? Definition of clear goals and milestones with achievable timelines. Too many organisations over-commit then under-deliver. I believe primarily because they underestimate the complexity of our world. Engineering is 10% happy path, 90% for when things go wrong. And it's always the latter that ruins most roadmaps and strategies - because they don't account for the unforeseen.

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? This is a tough one. We're an increasingly tech-driven society. At one point - CTOs would sit behind a CEO in terms of promotion of the business, but we see more people from some fast growth startups in the CEO role that are actually CTOs. I think CTOs will grow to become a more prominent front of the business. We don't have a CEO at Spicy Mango - we're a tech company - and I love to promote our ethos and passion.

What has been your greatest career achievement? The work we did back in my days at ITV because it was so pioneering. The introduction of online video into ITV was a huge thing - we were playing in a space where the industry was learning day by day. It was all about, H.263 and 3GPP protocols, the days of WAP and the early introductions of RTMP and HDS. Everything was more complicated back then, but looking back, it definitely made the challenge worthwhile and the work I did then definitely provided the foundation for the way I work with Spicy Mango's customers now.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? I try not to have regrets. I'd rather regret the things I've done than the things I haven't done. I try to make balanced decisions. In my eyes - they've usually worked - but let's not go asking around!

What are you reading now? How to build a car by Adrian Newey. I'm a huge petrol head and this has been on my list for a while. Honestly, I don't particularly enjoy reading anymore as my day is spent reading and writing documents, proposals and architectures, but I love cars and the engineering aspect, so this is an enjoyable read for me.

Most people don't know that I… Love food! I try to eat out as often as I can. I also love to cook. It's a nice wind-down after a long day at work. I wouldn't say I'm a pro, but nothing I've eaten has killed me.

In my spare time, I like to…Play music. I'm a bit of a musician so spend a lot of time when I can on the Piano or Guitar.

Ask me to do anything but… Use anything glitter based. I can't stand the stuff. Birthday cards, wrapping paper, any of it. I have an exclusion zone around my house.