CEO Doesn’t Mean Having Your Own Way

I mentioned to someone this week that if things keep up I will eventually be the worst programmer in the company. (Some of us un-cool people still call ourselves programmers instead of software developers.) She said,

You’re okay with that, right? After all, you’re the CEO.

For years, I said that if I had everything my own way, I would just do research – design experiments, analyze data, write it up. Not even so much the writing it up part for academic journals, because that is deathly boring. However, if you want to do research you usually need money that comes from funding agencies, you need to hire people to collect and enter data. It helps if you are at a university, which means you need to teach. The people that fund you often want to see academic journal articles, hence the APA style and rewriting. So, while I was saying I just wanted to do research, it was probably where I spent less than 25% of my time.

Now I say that if I had my way, I would just do coding on the games and do research. In a good week that is 50% of my time. Some weeks, it’s less than 10%.

I also say a lot that if I really had my own way, I would spend a few weeks in Costa Rica or Mexico in some intensive Spanish language camp and become really fluent so that I don’t sound like such an idiot when I get interviewed for Spanish language media.

The truth is that if I REALLY wanted those things, I would be doing them and there is something I want more, which is to be setting the direction of this company.

Two things I learned from long experience on boards of organizations

  1. If you’re not involved in rowing, you have no right to steer the ship. What does that mean? Just this – that if I want to be the person who decides whether we hire a new artist or a new developer, I need to have knowledge of our cash flow, current and projected, so I know what we can afford to pay. I need to know if that cash flow is cyclical. Did we make a lot more at Christmas but can expect to make less in January? If I truly believe we need both another artist and another developer, then I need to figure out how we are going to find the money, whether it be from Kickstarter, investors, sales, grants – and then I need to make that happen. If I want us to make games that make you smarter, I need to find people who can do everything from website design to audio editing and then I need to make sure that they have the software and hardware to get it done and that everyone understands what the end product should be. Sadly, not much of that involves programming, research or speaking Spanish.
  2. The person running things actually has to run things. I know a few non-profits where the ostensible CEO is a coach, therapist, social worker or other really worthwhile job X. They love their work which is why they started an organization to provide X. The problem is that they are so busy doing X that they don’t have time to notice the business manager is coming into work only 3 days a week and paying double market rates for everything because he’s too clueless to get multiple bids. They have no clients coming into their organization because they don’t have a website or marketing materials. This is basically the whole point of the book, The E-Myth Revisited – running a pie shop and baking pies are two completely different things.

Where does that leave me? That this is a choice I have made to be CEO and that means choosing to do the work that needs to be done by  the CEO.



Wait! There’s light!

However … I stole this idea from someone whose name I cannot remember who is CEO of a tech company and takes six weeks of “vacation” every year to code.

  • In May, I’m taking a week just to work on the final finishing touches of our latest revision of Spirit Lake. The company should not fall apart if I take a week off.
  • In June, I am spending a whole week doing nothing but research and data analysis on the effectiveness of our games in increasing knowledge of math.

Because being CEO is important, but it shouldn’t feel like you never get to do the things that made you want to start a company in the first place


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