To ThoughtWorks' CTO, talent doesn't always come with an Ivy League degree

Andreas Rekdal
June 22, 2017

As CTO of a software consultancy with offices all over the world, Rebecca Parsons helps organizations like Amnesty International, the U.K. government, Target and Starwood enhance their digital strategies. According to Parsons, ThoughtWorks’ biggest asset is a bank of hard-earned lessons. With a Ph.D. in computer science from Rice University and years of industry and research experience, Parsons’ credentials are paralleled by few. But to her, curiosity is a far more important candidate trait than what’s on a resume.

What technologies power your business?

One of the things we’re most excited about this year is platform thinking: a methodology for making key technology decisions that will simplify our clients’ ecosystems, stimulate innovation and accelerate delivery. To remove friction and build ecosystems, we focus on key areas of delivery such as delivery infrastructure, architecture and API remediation, self-service data, experiment infrastructure and telemetry, and customer touchpoint technology. Our wealth of experience gathered across a range of clients and industries enables us to significantly accelerate and de-risk our clients’ efforts. We’ve fallen into the traps and potholes and found the escape hatches so that they don’t have to.

What is the biggest technological hurdle you’ve faced, and how did your team overcome it?

As consultants to enterprises looking to use technology to get ahead, we face many different technological hurdles daily. But perhaps the biggest challenge is not the technology itself, but in navigating what we call “the frozen middle” — the pre-existing gap between technology and “the business.” Breaking down silos and putting technology at the core of the business is critical to innovation and speed to market at scale — major factors in any organization’s success today and into the future — but it’s a major shift from the way that large enterprises have been working over the last few decades.

What are the most important tech developments you’re watching right now?

We publish our Technology Radar twice a year — it’s a snapshot of the major technologies and trends that we glean from our work, partnering on our clients' most ambitious projects. Beyond platform thinking, we called out a few other important developments earlier this year, with one example being an increased focus on developer productivity.

As we embrace a future where society, business and technology are inextricably linked, it’s more important than ever to do tech right and with the best people.The industry is beginning to understand that developers are the customers for things like private clouds and third-party services and APIs; and that developer experience is an important differentiator. We’re finding developers at their most productive given a “you build it, you run it” accountability and enlightened ways in which to interact with other teams. This enlightenment includes techniques such as API-as-product and treating other parts of the organization as though they are customers, even if they're internal.

What sets your team apart?

ThoughtWorkers are about as diverse a group as you'll find anywhere in the industry. Our people hail from countries around the world and represent a wide range of ethnic origins. They bring an array of distinct professional and life experiences to ThoughtWorks and view the world from a broad spectrum of ideological and philosophical perspectives.

What do you look for when hiring for engineers?

Aptitude, attitude and integrity have been the hallmark of our culture and selection process from the beginning. Our process aims to dig beyond the CV. We focus on finding people who are curious and intelligent more than asking: “What's on your resume?” While other organizations choose degrees and institutions as their selection point, we believe the guiding principles of attitude, aptitude and integrity allow us to bring together greater diversity of thought to solve the challenges our clients face. Talent does not necessarily have an Ivy League background or a 4.0 GPA.

 

Image via ThoughtWorks. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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