CIO Spotlight: Thomas Wythe, Go1

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? “Take on new challenges which are uncomfortable. Particularly those where people are concerned… Technology Leadership has little to do with technology and everything to do with the right people and in knowing the provocative questions to ask…”

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Go1

Name: Thomas Wythe

Company: Go1

Job title: CIO

Date started current role: December 2017

Location: Brisbane

Thomas Wythe is CIO of Go1. A passionate technology and business leader who thrives on navigating the challenges associated with growing a start up in to a global success. Wythe has an eclectic engineering and technology career spanning over two decades, having been a part of exec teams in large corporates spearheading transformation projects or working with energetic entrepreneurs with an idea and boot strapping them to through execution. Wythe is most at home solving problems – whether its people, process or technology.  

What was your first job? Electronics engineer for at an audio and video repair shop avionics engineer for an Aerospace company. 

Did you always want to work in IT? Electronics was my first passion, after trying my hand at Aerospace (which I found very ‘follow the rules and the drawings’) I got into IP networking and server infrastructure which is where my IT career began. 

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I left school at 16 and chose not to pursue tertiary education – instead favouring certifications and education which was specialised. I have some accreditations in electrical and mechanical engineering as well as several certifications from the Cisco networking academy. Aside from this, I’ve done (as the need arose) online short courses in agile practices, specific technical domains, management and leadership (alongside a lot of reading). 

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. My career path to date has been eclectic but I think this has also given me a unique perspective.

After spending a short time working in a repair shop (and quickly realising that repairing home audio and video appliances was probably going to be under a lot of pressure with costs reducing), I took up an apprenticeship in Aerospace. Whilst the work was exciting it was also quite ‘constrained’ – drawings had to be followed, designs were already in place and there was (understandably) a lot of red tape in making improvement or changes, I wanted to try my hand at something else. 

A lot of friends were breaking into IT from University by that point and the work they were doing was exciting (Unix and Server support for larger enterprises). I took a lot of interviews to make the transition – I was passionate but inexperienced. I remember once asking a friend to share ‘everything they knew about SQL’ as I had an interview for a DBA role in 60 mins. I actually think my interview was passable and I was shortlisted. 

I got a helpdesk role and quickly found my forte was troubleshooting, networking and infrastructure. After a year or so I joined a hosting company, managing the data centre network in a small but independent environment. It was cash constrained but the work was exciting – I learnt how to commercialise the work I was doing and how this benefitted customers. I spent a lot of time designing solutions. 

I then joined Betfair, online betting and gaming where I quickly applied my troubleshooting to a different domain: people and software. I learn about agile, building teams and how software development was done at scale. When the business became very large (over 1,500 people) I needed to specialise and I didn’t enjoy that. I loved the variety of pace of growing businesses. I met a number of entrepreneurs in my time at Betfair and in gaming generally, I found I could speak there language. I had a talent for helping raise money, explaining technical problems in commercial speak and I had a passion for getting things done. 

Since then I’ve worked in 4 different start-ups, each successful in their own right (sometimes commercial, sometimes technical). At Go1 I spend most of my time with partners and customers – helping them identify needs, map that to Go1’s solutions and implement in a way which builds trust and exceeds expectation. I feel very much at home at Go1 – we are an online SaaS learning content marketplace, we’re growing quickly, our challenges are new and different and we are solving a real-world problem by helping people stay ahead of changing role requirements, technology and economics. 

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? Go1’s growth has been exponential – our investment into 2022 will focus on three things: 

Globalisation – making sure our products operate in every corner of the globe, continue to meet the compliance requirements of those regions and deliver the best possible, localised, user experience.

Horizontal scaling – extrapolating the ‘routine’ parts of our marketplace lifecycle (such as integrating learning content providers or distributing the content into Enterprise LMS’s) so that system integrators and other 3rd parties can quickly and easily build new integrations for us (enabling us to scale even faster and keep our eyes on core functionality – our secret sauce) 

Learning experience – building features and tools which make it easier to discover and take learning. Introducing learners to new ways to consume new knowledge, helping put them on a life long learning journey. Essentially putting the right content in front of them at just the right time. 

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? As our business is our technology, our CEO naturally influences our roadmap and product strategy. Our technology initiatives will intentionally support this by ensuring our engineering teams are ready to execute. In a nut shell, we want to ensure the product strategy can be delivered and we want to ensure technology is not the limitation (namely by staying ahead of growth). This will come down to people: having the right people, in the right place, at the right time and doing the right things. 

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? Different phases of a businesses growth require different CIO skill sets at different times: from bootstrapping to hyper-scaling to high efficiency operation. I’m lucky to have spent time doing all three over the span of my career to date and I’ve never felt there was a responsibility which should or should not be in my wheelhouse. 

A seasoned CIO will have seen it all: solving commercial, relationship or partnership, people, technical and process issues and challenges. If you see a problem and you are in a position (awareness, knowledge, solution) then you have a duty to solve it (then, put a team around it to manage it – regardless of whether that team reports to you into the future). 

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? After a fashion, yes. One of the greatest challenges (and transformations) we are working on is the rapid and horizontal scaling of our marketplace integration (one of the three priorities above). 

In this scenario we are pivoting from complex or time consuming professional services style engagements to commoditised tools and interfaces which enable our ecosystem of system integrations (which is growing rapidly) to extract, leverage or contribute to our marketplace of content without requiring significant work by our own engineering teams. If we achieve that, there is no limit to how quickly our marketplace can grow (and we are well on the way). 

At the same time, we need to balance this with operating and managing the 300+ content providers we already work with. Naturally, we want to separate our concerns (so there is focus, capacity and clear priority). We’ve done this by structuring teams:

Operations – manage current content activity, triage, fixes, escalations.

Product – owning and building the API’s which will be used by our ecosystems of SI’s to develop integrations

Implementation – owning the relationship with the SI and the consumer of the API’s (the content partner or distribution partner) and handholding or shepherding the integration (so as not to distract our product teams) 

Key to this is communication from implementation and operations to product to make sure the features and functions of our API are meeting needs head on.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? As the technology and product are the business and that business has grown incredibly quickly, I’d say we’ve had to mature (grow up?) equally as quickly. This includes everything from engineering principles and practices to adoption of technology to the controls and processes we put around it (which very much includes our and our customer’s compliance needs). 

Our KPI’s reflect this and fall into four buckets:

Responsiveness – do our interfaces and tools provide a good user experience (whether that user is a physical learner or another connected system for which there is a dependency). Scalability and performance is a big part of this. 

Security – how is our ISMS being followed, how are we performing against it, what do we need to improve 

Problem handling – ticket and defect SLA’s and performance against them 

Delivery – the sprints and EPICs we plan and do we meet the objectives we set

What does a good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? Learning is in our DNA. Our cultural values focus on a few things and we work hard to test ourselves (and our candidates!) against them all the time. There are three which particularly resonate with me:

Eyes to the climb – always looking ahead to the next milestone, planning for the future but acting in the present. 

Plan. Act. Succeed – doing the right amount of planning, taking action, learning (sometimes failing) and adapting. 

Listen and Uplift – continuously monitoring our environment, not being complacent and always striving to be better. Our CEO has a great say: every 1% eventually makes 100%. Every time we take a short cut or accept something very short term, we compound a future problem, if we don’t do it consciously. 

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? In the area of technology generally we sometimes find senior engineering roles are hard to fill. It can be easier to find very diverse technical skillsets but when you need to combine this with people management or product development (commercial acumen) it is a lot harder. Part of this can be down to how you articulate the roles but also how you incentivise and cultivate which in turn leads to word of mouth which in turn leads to the right people coming to you. This is something we are focusing on a lot at the moment.

What's the best career advice you ever received? ‘always check your reality’ which I always took to mean that just because a problem or challenge looks the same as something you have seen before, it doesn’t always means it can be solved in the same way and to not become complacent with your success to always look around at the competition, your market economics, your employee satisfaction, the true state of your technology and technical debt. 

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. My succession plan (in any business) is based upon the principles that if your business is growing, so will the needs of your CIO or CTO – I will continuously monitor my own performance, relationships and the challenges I face. When and if the time is right, I will bring in and augment my own skills with those of others who are equipped. My experience gives me the insight to identify those areas (even if I’m not always the best person to solve them). Sometimes this means recruiting a replacement, sometimes it means hiring a new team or specialist because that problem area is now big enough that is needs one. 

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? Take on new challenges which are uncomfortable. Particularly those where people are concerned. Technology Leadership has little to do with technology and everything to do with the right people and in knowing the provocative questions to ask and how to ask them (which taking on new challenges and gaining new experience gives you the tool kit to do). This means you will continually work to raise the bar in your organisation. 

What has been your greatest career achievement? To date, its probably been here at Go1 in helping develop our partner channel – it required using every tools I had. From forging partnerships and trust, understanding the unit economics and commercial imperatives, working to extrapolate our product and technology so partners could leverage it and eventually putting operational teams around the work. It was that variety which also made the challenge particularly exciting. 

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? I’m a firm believer in ‘no regrets, only learnings’. It’s a bit of a cliché but I genuinely do not believe I would have done anything differently. Each experience had led to the next, enabled me to learn and change my approach. You can’t do that if you don’t fail from time to time. No amount of coaching or mentoring prepares you for the very real experience of failing yourself. It is enlightening. 

My only real regret (in hindsight) was buying one particularly car at a particular time and then loosing almost every $ when I sold it…. But that’s a story for a beer.

What are you reading now? The Dumbest Guy at the Table by David Shein (who created Australia’s first tech unicorn Com Tech) and a Blink of the Screen, the Terry Pratchett short fiction collection.

Most people don't know that I… Used to own a Flour Mill in Southern France and that I spend some time as a dairy farmer (maybe this is where I got my love or early morning working!).

In my spare time, I like to…Repair things – cars, electronics, my sons motocross bike.

Ask me to do anything but… If it’s some kind of unnecessarily complex manual workaround or long document describing why something cannot be done, I’ll probably be finding ways to optimise it or say ‘yes we can do it’ instead… and make pancakes. I can only burn flour and water.