CTO Sessions: Pam Coffey, AHEAD

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? “A good summary of my career path is that it kept moving me to areas that were of interest and I continued to make use of my experience as my career progressed.”


Name: Pam Coffey

Company: AHEAD

Job title: Field CTO

Date started current role: December 2019

Location: Atlanta, GA

At AHEAD, Pam Coffey is a Field CTO in the Southeast where she focuses most of her time working with enterprise clients looking to transform how IT supports their business. With nearly 40 years of experience across systems engineering, solutions architecture, consulting, and practice management, Coffey focuses on helping clients create and execute IT strategies to leverage technology to solve business problems.

What was your first job? My first paying job was as a lifeguard on a military base. My first technology job was as a backup operator for a software company.

Did you always want to work in IT? I never really planned to work in IT, it just kind of happened based on my interest in computers, math, and programming. I also wanted to pay my way through college and a local company was hiring - thus my career began.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they?  I have a Master of Science in Artificial Intelligence and a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I wouldn’t say my career had detours, but rather forks in the road. I first started out as a backup operator, then after I graduated as an undergraduate I became a software developer. I quickly realised this wasn’t the role for me – not enough contact with people. From there, I moved into a consulting role in the high-performance computing industry based on my degree in math and experience gained as a developer. This role was much more to my liking because it was more people oriented and more technical.

Then after a few years, I left my consulting position in search of something new – seeking something more dynamic and oriented to bigger-picture technical problems – so I moved into a technical presales role. This is, in my opinion, one of the best jobs in the industry! After performing in this role, across several companies, for 25+ years I took on my next challenge of building and running a virtualisation and cloud practice. That was a new challenge that required not only technical skills and savvy, but also business-oriented skills around profit and loss, utilisation of technical resources and alignment of our offerings to customer demand. My experience as a practice manager helped to provide the skills required for my current role as Field CTO.

A good summary of my career path is that it kept moving me to areas that were of interest and I continued to make use of my experience as my career progressed.

What type of CTO are you? I am a Field CTO, meaning I help businesses think of technology in a strategic and business-aligned way. In this role, we don’t want to deploy technology for technology’s sake, but instead apply it to solve problems and provide solutions. As a Field CTO, there are also considerations around the people and process side of the equation, as well as financial commitments. My most enjoyable interactions with clients are where we can work together strategically to make everything fit together.

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? Value Stream Management (VSM). This is not a technology, but an approach. It has really caught my attention because it addresses the issue of developing software faster and more effectively to benefit the business. It helps to address the “language” mismatch between executives and AppDev. For example, the executives want to know, “When can I have the feature and what will it cost me?” while the application side of the house talks in pipelines, code commits, backlogs, stories and more.

At its core, VSM helps companies make sure the software they are developing and the methods used to develop it are aligned to business value. The DevOps Institute just formed a VSM group to help companies get more out of DevOps and modern applications initiatives, with several vendors identified as leaders in this space including ServiceNow, Digital.ai, Plutora and Tasktop among others.

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? Why? I think DevOps, as a concept, has been overhyped and misunderstood. It’s possible this is because many companies have not seen the expected benefit from their DevOps journey. These results could be associated with the lack of a business-aligned strategy that can map the value of DevOps initiatives and their resulting software delivery back to the business.

What is one unique initiative that you’ve employed over the last 12 months that you’re really proud of? Helping a client of mine create a strategy for Modernising IT Operations and building out a phase one automation solution.

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? The Modernising IT Operations transformation that I’m assisting one of my clients with is focused on operational efficiencies. This initiative aims for better support for business applications that ultimately are revenue producing, but is more about being more agile, cost effective and efficient in supporting technology.

What is the biggest issue that you’re helping customers with at the moment? A challenge I’m focused on right now is helping customers drive efficiencies and leverage technology in a strategic way for business value and alignment.

How do you align your technology use to meet business goals? That’s a great question, and one I often ask my clients! There are many answers and approaches – everything from having a showback or chargeback capability to show the business units what they are spending on technology, to more mature attempts to map corporate strategy and funding to annual budget, project, and resource consumption, and technology in support of projects.

Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy?  I think this is a problem most, if not all, of my clients face. Technical strategies cannot be created in a vacuum, but often the IT organisation doesn’t have a seat at the table when product/service strategy and decisions are made. This makes it difficult for technical leaders to map their strategy to the broader strategies of the organisation.

What makes an effective tech strategy? An effective tech strategy is aligned with, and in support of the business strategy. An effective tech strategy is, in fact, an enabler of the business strategy.

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? I think CTOs will become much more business aligned. The role will become even more involved in business strategy discussions and will take on more of the responsibility to map technology back to business value and enablement.

What has been your greatest career achievement? Enjoying a long career across many technologies and the assistance I have provided to my clients through the years.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? I would have focused on gaining greater experience on the application and business side of things earlier in my career.

What are you reading now? I read a lot. Right now, a sci-fi book by Poul Anderson, an interesting fiction, Mostly Dead Things and anything I can get my hands on about Value Stream Management.

Most people don't know that I… Took a sabbatical and rode across the U.S. on a motorcycle.

In my spare time, I like to…Kayak, wilderness camp, and adventure travel.

Ask me to do anything but… Go shopping for clothes (unless it is outdoor gear).