The Whiteboard

Reflections on My First Six Months as VMware’s CTO

Shortly after I took the reins as VMware’s Chief Technology Officer (CTO), I published a blog about navigating industry shifts, which included a reflection on the lessons I’ve learned during the many roles I’ve had here at VMware. And now, six months into this role, I’d like to share my experiences and what I’ve learned so far.

First off, I’m leading a much larger organization than I ever have before. The VMware Office of the CTO (OCTO) is now well over 2,000 people. Previously, the largest team I’d ever led was around 150 people — clearly, a big jump! I had some initial anxiety and uncertainty about my ability to lead a team this large. Was it too big of a jump in role scope? Was I properly prepared enough from prior experiences? Was I going to screw this whole thing up? (Well let’s be honest, that initial anxiety and those questions are still on my mind!)

I think it’s natural to have these sorts of worries and concerns whenever one takes a new role, especially when that role is much bigger than the previous one. Frankly, it’s been my experience that no one is ever truly prepared and we are always — to some extent — learning on the job. So, it’s been my strategy to stay hungry and humble, clearly admit and acknowledge my areas for improvement, and continually seek out feedback. I have been very focused on making it easy for anyone on my team or at VMware to give me feedback, as I talked about in this blog I wrote about my updated e-mail signature. I have found this to be a great way to highlight issues in the organization (and in myself) that I should be aware of and address.

Setting up a structure for success

One of the challenges I am continuing to navigate in this new role is the full switch from “player” (doing things myself) to “coach” (coordinating the actions of others). I have historically managed teams with just a handful of people, meaning that if I needed anything done, I often had to do it myself. But now there is this huge team of passionate people eager to contribute. While for one specific, immediate task, it may be faster for me just to do it — over the long term, if I don’t enable people to take care of it themselves, I will become a bottleneck and get absolutely buried. It also provides an opportunity for my team members to grow, acquire, and sharpen their skills, so they can progress in their careers, as well. This means spending extra time with folks to enable them to get the work done themselves.

At first, this felt mightily uncomfortable. I was worried about things getting done. But I soon realized that once you have the right people on your team, you can delegate to them and things will happen. So, my job has become less about doing specific things and more about setting up an environment that allows team members to contribute and grow. Part of this involves creating the right rhythms of business with clear roles and responsibilities and lines of communication, so I’ve worked to empower my teams to ideate and innovate on the things they’re passionate about. I also want to create a safe space where folks aren’t afraid to bring me their problems. In sum, I’ve been thinking and focusing a lot on organization structure and processes.

From micro to meta

What’s interesting about all this is how different it’s been from the other CTO roles I’ve held. In those positions, the focus was much more on technology, strategy, architecture, and the like. Of course, we still have to do that for the VMware OCTO, but the point is that there are people on the team to do that. I need to focus on these other things. And this is, perhaps, another aspect of career growth — what made you successful early in your career may not be what makes you successful later in your career. So I am very much in learning mode here, trying to absorb as much as I can and leaning on many experienced people on the team.

My new role has also provided me with opportunities for me to advance some of the initiatives I’m most passionate about. For example, I’ve been able to put a lot of focus on driving diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and environmental, social, and governance (ESG). And the traction we’ve made has been very satisfying on a personal level. For example, more than 50% of the senior promotions in the last six months were awesome technologists who just happened to be women.

Keeping the “life” in work/life balance

My work/life balance has become trickier to navigate. I am definitely working more than in previous roles, but it’s manageable. For me, it’s about balance and ensuring my workload doesn’t become unhealthy. I prioritize my health — proper diet, exercise, etc. I’m divorced and the kids split each week between me and their mom. When the kids are with me, I make sure to spend as much time with them as I can and do more work on the days I’m not with them.

I’m also a firm believer in taking time off. I still take vacations and make sure I include fun in my life. Given the broad visibility of my role, I want to make sure I openly model this for the team. While there is a strong work ethic in Silicon Valley, I see many people taking it too far and not prioritizing time off/away from work. It should be expected that you take time off. This should be viewed as a good thing and not something where people might think they’re falling behind or slacking.

Overall, I really enjoy being VMware CTO. I’m grateful to have such an awesome set of people on the team and to be so deeply back in learning mode. The past six months have been a wild ride and I’m excited for what the next six months will hold!

Comments

11 comments have been added so far

  1. Hi Kim,
    I appreciate how fearlessly you wrote this article . I found this so relatable. I was looking for a role change, sceptical about the new roles and responsibilities but after reading this I got the confidence that it’s natural to feel this way.Wish u All the best ! My belief your hunger and humble attitude will take u miles .
    Thanks .great article !

  2. Thats really interesting and very insightful! I learned sth. from the his article.
    I hope this will contribute that more leaders will be more open/transparent not about their “professional” life, but also whats going on “else”. That will make it easier for us to connect with our leaders and emphasise with them.

    Great article!
    Armin

  3. This is a great, honest article. Very much appreciated the opportunity to read “the truth”.

    I can certainly relate to much of this as my role is also transitioning to more of a ‘coach’ rather than a ‘player’.. a difficult change for sure. additionally, I also have my children 50% of the time and do what i can to focus on them when i have them – time goes too quickly, i try to remind myself to make the most of the present and not obsess too much over getting to the future.

  4. Great read, Kit! Thank you for sharing. I also struggle at times balancing the speed advantage of “do it myself” with the necessity of remembering to “enable and challenge.” I appreciate your insights here and it’s encouraging to know I’m not alone. Cheers!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.