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Flashes of Brilliance: In Conversation With Edoardo Turelli

Flashes of Brilliance: In Conversation With Edoardo Turelli

Edoardo Turelli is a tech industry veteran with over 25 years of experience, encompassing three major career phases:

  • A decade as a developer and software architect building various web platforms
  • Five years as a founder of a niche social media startup in the metaverse space
  • Ten years in senior tech leadership roles

He has worked with innovative companies in AI and deep tech, achieving milestones such as breaking the world record for real-time interactions.

With his impressive wealth of experience, Edoardo has transitioned to interim and fractional CTO roles, where he uses his technical, entrepreneurial, and leadership skills on a daily basis. He has experienced first-hand the range of unique benefits that interim CTO positions offer businesses, and in this conversation, he shares his expert guidance and a range of examples of when it’s needed most.

 

1. What drew you to interim and fractional CTO roles, and how have these positions allowed you to leverage your skills and experiences uniquely?

As for what drew me to interim and fractional CTO roles, there are both professional and personal reasons. Professionally, I was intrigued by the idea of using the three key aspects of my career: technical expertise, entrepreneurial experience, and management/leadership skills. Being an interim and fractional CTO allows me to leverage these in an effective, impactful, and rapid way.

Personally, I enjoy the diversity of sectors and products. Although interim and fractional work is often seen as temporary, I’ve built long-term relationships with the companies I’ve worked with. I’ve even stayed on as an advisor in some cases. I love working with great people and founders, making my contribution, and creating good relationships. This diversity and relationship-building are very fulfilling for me.


2. When people hear terms like fractional or interim CTO, there can be a perception of less professional commitment. What are your thoughts on this?

I’m smiling because this is something I have a strong opinion on. It’s true that there’s often a perception of less commitment. But I like to switch the angle from which we look at this. For those of us doing interim and fractional work, credibility is important to build our portfolio. We must deliver our best work to continue getting appointed. If we don’t, we won’t have work.

Being an interim or fractional CTO means delivering value quickly and effectively. If we don’t, there’s no reason for companies to keep us. It’s somewhat easier to let go of contractors if they’re not performing, unlike full-time employees. This dynamic provides a certain level of protection for the company and emphasises our commitment to delivering results.

It’s important to see ourselves as tools companies can use to get exactly what they need. The question then becomes, how do CEOs or entrepreneurs know if the person they hire will be good? There are many best practices for assessing candidates for permanent roles, but fewer for contractors.

When assessing interim and fractional CTOs, look for specific indicators. Are they asking the right questions? Are they quickly understanding the critical aspects of your situation? Can they share their perspective and help you learn something new?

The best processes I’ve seen focus less on past achievements and more on how the contractor will address current challenges. It’s about navigating the situation together and understanding the company’s goals. The good ones are heavily committed to delivering value, which is why they get more work. So, the perception of less commitment is often due to individuals not being good at this type of work. The good ones are very committed and deliver results.

 

3. Reflecting on the alignment of fractional leadership with a company’s mission, vision, goals, and challenges, what are the key differences in the technology and management needs between early-stage startups and more established scale-ups?

There are profound differences. Early-stage companies transition from chaos to some structure, from no process to foundational processes, and from no management to structured leadership. This is a natural progression from ideation and pre-seed stages to Series A. For example, in Series A, companies might add the first layer of management and start implementing formal processes, especially in hiring.

Early-stage companies might also lack prioritisation, structured sprints, or formal QA testing. Everything is ad hoc, relying on the knowledge of the people involved. As the company grows, these processes need to be formalised so new hires can effectively integrate into the system.

At later stages, companies shift from foundational processes to scalable ones. Management needs to scale both organisationally and with the sophistication required for the calibre of customers and their expectations. This includes introducing middle management, creating more autonomous departments, and managing inter-departmental coordination to avoid silos.

Structuring the work involves also job levelling and creating clear career paths for employees, which requires a more formal approach. These changes can sometimes be challenging for early employees who have been with the company from the beginning.

As organisations grow in complexity, so do technological challenges. For mature companies, it’s crucial to choose the right technology for scale, guarantee SLAs, design for auditability, meet regulatory requirements, integrate with partners, and establish distribution channels. These aspects intersect with technology but go beyond the product itself.

 

4. From your experience, what unique value does a fractional CTO bring to a startup compared to a full-time CTO, and when should a company consider this option?

I will speak about fractional and interim interchangeably, though there are slight differences. Generally, a fractional or interim CTO can be immensely helpful at three major moments: early stage, during transitions, and when there’s a problem to fix.

Early-stage, from pre-seed to Series A, is one of the most impactful yet least utilised areas for a fractional CTO. This phase involves inherent risks of innovation and entrepreneurship, but there are other risks that can be managed by a seasoned leader. Experienced guidance on recruitment choices or technology decisions, like infrastructure selection and data architectures, can prevent costly mistakes.

A fractional CTO can manage opportunity costs and risks, providing needed experience exactly when required.

The next crucial moment is during transitions, such as post-funding when you need to deliver on promises or during a pivot. Companies often default to hiring a new VP of Engineering or CTO with limited budgets, which can be risky if the hire lacks experience. A fractional CTO can support these hires, ensuring the company isn’t jeopardised by inexperience. There’s also a gap element: hiring and onboarding the right person takes time, and a fractional CTO can fill this gap, setting the foundation for the new hire’s success.

The last scenario is when there’s a problem to fix. A fractional CTO, being an outsider, brings an objective perspective, identifies blind spots, and offers solutions without emotional attachment. They can help fix issues or work alongside the team to resolve them.

These three major areas—early stage, transitions, and problem-solving—are where a fractional CTO can provide significant value.

 

5. As a coach and mentor for engineering leaders, what critical skills do you focus on developing in tech leaders, and how do these skills contribute to their success as future CTOs?

Although technology is in the role’s name, the focus is often on emotional intelligence, which becomes crucial as you progress to more senior roles. The technical competence comes with experience, having tackled multiple problems and having seen the result of it in the long term.

Developing emotional intelligence is less obvious, and different career stages present new, unexpected challenges. Coaching has the uniqueness of working on specific examples and needs, often starting with self-awareness and understanding personality traits or behaviours that hinder goals.

Coaching includes learning to read the room quickly and adapt the style to it, knowing when to listen or speak up, or effectively negotiating by considering others’ perspectives. Emotional intelligence is consistently crucial, whether you prefer permanent work, or fractional, interim roles.

 

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