IC to CTO, Coding to Not Coding

Kumar Puspesh

CTO & Co-Founder at Moonfrog Labs



Before starting my own company, I was an individual contributor. I was self-driven, managed myself and my own time, and thoroughly enjoyed coding. For the initial few months and years as a CTO and founder of a startup, I too was involved in continuous coding. Of course, because it was my baby. But as we grew, my responsibilities changed and I slowly transitioned from coding 100% of the time to completely focusing on non-coding activities. I questioned whether I really wanted to be on the leadership side of the organization or if I wanted to return to my former coding days as an IC.

Actions taken

I talked to people who I trusted and respected, people who I looked up to. I wanted to gain intel on the reasons why they liked what they did. It's not that I wanted to steal their answers and use them as my own excuses, but more so that I was hoping to shine the light on some hidden knowledge and gather data to justify my own reasoning.

I also read a lot of books, documents, and blog posts. I knew that others had gone through similar situations and that they had shared their experiences. I took note of how they ended up solving this dilemma and added that information to my data pile.

I ultimately concluded that I had made the right decision and should remain in my C-level role. I accepted the fact that coding would no longer be a part of my everyday workings and decided not to fight it anymore and go with this new flow. I took on the role as CTO and gave it a fair try.

To deal with my longing to code, I picked up side projects. I searched for the rough edges of our product or business that nobody else was looking at and tried to get those things done. I figured out hidden problem statements, sought after means to simplify steps, and investigated performance improvability. I'd identify and pick a problem, come up with a decent solution, and present it to the team. Those small tasks helped solve my personal hunger for coding, plus they pushed the product forward.

Lessons learned

  • Gather the data necessary to make the right decision for you. Do you want to be in this new position or don't you? But don't stay in limbo for long because your ambiguity will start showing up in your team and in the product. Especially in startups, you don't have the extra bandwidth or headroom.
  • When you move from IC to manager or CTO, you are bound to get that sinking feeling that comes from not coding anymore. Don't worry, it will quickly pass, hopefully. Just know that your responsibilities have shifted, yet you don't have to give up coding.
  • As a CTO, it's not about making big-bang decisions that change the trajectory of a project. You make more of an impact by adding incremental value to the team.

"I ultimately concluded that I had made the right decision and should remain in my C-level role."

"To deal with my longing to code, I picked up side projects."

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Kumar Puspesh

CTO & Co-Founder at Moonfrog Labs

Technical SkillsProgrammingSoftware DevelopmentCareer GrowthCareer ProgressionCareer LadderSkill DevelopmentIndividual Contributor RolesLeadership RolesCTO

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