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When you’re a multi-time CTO, like Ryan Donovan, your objective is a simple one: find the next challenge that coincides with a mission that excites you. As the Chief Technology Officer at Hootsuite, the world leader in social media management, Ryan believes he has found that challenge. Ryan joined IT Visionaries for a discussion centered around how he manages a global staff from the comfort of his home. Plus he explains the difference between being a first-time CTO to an experienced C-suite executive, and the struggles of managing scale.

Main Takeaways

  • Share the Pain: When you manage a global team, make sure you are not just catering to one time zone or one set of employees. If one employee is remote, your entire team is remote. Make sure your meetings and get-togethers reflect that. 
  • Don’t Stop Communicating: When managing through a crisis, make sure your communication increases. When Hootsuite had to deploy work from home orders, they were in constant contact with their employees, deploying new policies and then updating employees on those policies.
  • So, You’re New Here?: When you take over as CTO and you have your sights set on changing things, make that change an impactful one. Find solutions that can make the experience better for you employees and consumers.

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For a more in-depth look at this episode, check out the article below.


When you’re a multi-time CTO, like Ryan Donovan, the objective is a simple one: find the next challenge that coincides with a mission that excites you. As the Chief Technology Officer at Hootsuite, the world leader in social media management, Donovan believes he has found that challenge. Ryan joined IT Visionaries for a discussion centered around how he manages a global staff from the comfort of his home, and he also talked about the differences between being a first-time CTO and an experienced C-suite executive, and the struggles of managing scale.

As the CTO of Hootsuite, Donovan is responsible for overseeing a diverse customer base, that ranges from large enterprises to individuals. His responsibilities include product management, design engineering, DevOps security, privacy and compliance. And if you ask Donovan, after holding the title of CTO now four-times, this particular mission is the perfect fit.

“I think it is one of the coolest jobs in the world,” he said. “It’s a pretty awesome opportunity and awesome responsibility when you’ve got 200,000 plus paying customers using your platform all-day, everyday.” 

For Donovan, who has held similar positions with other companies, one of the greatest obstacles of working for Hootsuite are the unique challenges the platform itself presents.

You’re building an enterprise SaaS platform on top of social networks,” he said. “Working with Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter is very different from working with the likes of an Azure or AWS. There’s more fluidity in terms of API changes, as well as new capabilities coming that our customers are clamoring at the bit for us to respond to. So the pace is quite different at this role.”

For Donovan, whose vast experience includes mostly time spent with MarTech companies, one of the obstacles that he’s focused heavily on during his time at Hootsuite is how to best manage an evolving tech stack. As social platforms continue to grow, so do the intricacies of them. With those growing expectations, Hootsuite continues to add technologies that they’ve brought in over time.

“As with most companies our size, we have a pretty diverse tech stack,” Donovon said. “We’ve come up with new things, and every time we’ve brought in technology from other acquisitions, the big challenge is dealing with the networks.” 

According to Donovon, with changing algorithms, API’s from social networks are not as reliable as what you would expect from large companies such as Amazon, Google or Microsoft.

“[Social networks] present two unique technical challenges,” he said. “On top of the normal SaaS challenges, there’s also a whole other dimension to this, which is compliance. Not only do you have to account for all the usual suspects such as GDPR, etc., you also have to deal with the fact that each social network has their own terms of service that say what you can and can’t do with data.”

While social media remains the wild wild west, one thing that remains constant is the need for experienced leadership, something Donovan is well known for. Now a four-time CTO, Donovan stressed one of the things you must do when managing global teams is to have a flexible schedule that works for your entire team.

 “Some days I’ll get up really early, other days I’ll stay on really late if it’s a call with Australia,” Donovan said. “It’s just trying to be respectful of people’s time zones and share the pain.” 

One of the ways Donovan said you can be mindful to your teammates is to fluctuate your meetings so they work with your employees’ schedules. Donovan mentions that if you have a meeting at the same time everyday, you begin to prioritize your team members in local time zones, while punishing those that might be ahead or behind you.

“You have to be sure you share the pain when it comes to time zones,” Donovan said. “Don’t consistently penalize one time zone versus another. Make sure that you’re evening things out and then break up the events.”

So what advice does a Donovan have for technology leaders who are about to take the leap and become a first-time CTO? According to Donovan, the key is to not focus on too many things. But if you are going to implement changes in your first 90 days, make those changes count.

“I added functions that weren’t in existence,” he said. “We added a program management function to really focus on making sure that all the different teams can work together as a cohesive whole. That’s paid incredible dividends for us.” 

Another key piece of advice Donovan stressed was the second you become a CTO, your duties are less about the day-to-day and more about managing a team. So what happened when a global team was forced to go 100% remote? Donovan began over communicating everything, and it’s something he doesn’t intend to stop.

“When the pandemic struck, I started out doing these org-wide updates,” he said. “Here’s how we’re going to handle it, coming up with policies on the fly, we listened to people. That then settled into the entire executive team taking turns and doing communications to everybody two to three times a week, using that as a forum to listen and adapt, because there is no playbook for a pandemic.”

So while Hootsuite continues to work through stay-at-home orders, Donovan mentioned their main focus will never change — to innovate and continue selling the best social marketing tools for a growing base.

To hear the entire discussion, tune into IT Visionaries here

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