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Ty ShewmakeOct 26, 2018 2:09:00 PM8 min read

Quick Base - Rx for “CTO Beat Down Syndrome (CBDS)”

Anyone who’s been a CTO for a while knows the amount of effort that goes into building, securing, and maintaining full-stack WEB applications. They also know Web app development demand usually outstrips DevOps supply.

By a little. By a lot. Or even by orders of magnitude.

As a CTO, I wear 15 years’ battle scars from trying to scale full-stack SDLC development at the speed my businesses scaled. I quickly learned that even with triple my typical full-stack staff (or contractors), my DevOps output would still equal only a fraction of what the business needed to maintain its digital transformation velocity.

That’s why Quick Base became my CTO survival tool way back in 2008.

CTO Beat Down Syndrome (CBDS)
When I look around in 2018, I see many organizations’ technology quarterback (read: CTO) playing a mostly defensive game. The really good ones are able to field and maintain key, critical apps. Beyond that, most business leadership would maintain they’re not really meeting Web app demand.

The result? Just like way back in 2008, business units are sharing spreadsheets to support critical business processes. Weekly executive reports are still hand-created in Excel every Friday. Data remains locked in departmental silos. Staff members email critical business data back and forth just to keep the fires burning.  

So, I believe if these things are happening in an IT organization you should probably look at that IT organization and ask yourself this: is IT actively asking “Hey business, what can we build for you?”  

If not, there’s probably a CTO that has an affliction I call “CTO Beat Down Syndrome” (CBDS).

Here are the symptoms of CBDS:

  1. Every Web app is a full-stack implementation.
  2. IT uses much the same teams, tools, and technologies that they did back in 2007.
  3. IT misses project deadlines.
  4. IT blows project budgets.
  5. IT de-prioritizes as many app requests as possible to reduce workload.
  6. IT requests larger and larger dev staffs.

Many CTOs with CBDS are paying top-dollar for the same scarce IT skill-sets (developers, analysts, DBA’s, etc.) they paid top-dollar for 10 years ago. And, when hired, these people do pretty much what they did 10 years ago.  

The only difference today is they deploy apps on AWS because the CTO has “moved the business to the Web.”

Often accompanying CBDS is a feeling of foreboding. These CTOs are bombarded by seemingly endless stories of data breaches that end careers and ruin shareholder value. Everything they deploy with their blood, sweat, and tears becomes just another exciting new attack surface to be exploited by 14-year-olds while they watch the Simpsons.  

This makes CTOs deployment shy. After all, fewer apps means fewer attack surfaces, right?

As managers of mini-software factories, CTOs with CBDS have become so used to the fact their one-size-fits-all (full-stack) Web dev world sucks, they really don’t even question it anymore. Many have simply surrendered to CBDS - and just continue to plod along the same way they always have.

Paraphrasing Aaron Contorer, CEO of FP Complete: “They’ve (CTOs) succumbed to pessimism and lowered expectations” — while expecting everyone else in the business to do the same.  

The problem is, that ain’t happening.

The Business Answers
In 2018, frustrated business unit leaders are simply side-stepping traditional IT and going solo with their new development staff.

Wait, their “new development staff”? Yup.

They’re administrative assistants, payroll supervisors, legal clerks, accountants, marketing managers, and CFOs. Most of these people have never even heard of full-stack development,  yet they’re cranking out secure Web apps in a tenth the time, and at one-tenth the cost of IT’s full-stack apps.

The low / no-code revolution has begun.

Unfortunately, many CTOs with CBDS aren’t paying attention. What’s worse, many who do see what’s coming, ignore it.  

Unbelievably, CTOs with severe CBDS even go so far as to block low / no-code adoption.  Not only do they fail to embrace low / no-code and re-tool their IT organizations, they actually do their best to foil adoption by business units simply trying to pick up IT’s slack.

In the past 3 years, I’ve heard a ton of stories from business people regarding their new low / no-code journey. 50% of these stories highlight glowing low / no-code success. 30% detail how IT won’t even discuss low / no-code. And, 20% recount what IT did to actively sabotage its adoption.

In 1994 during a shift from System/36 to server-based technologies, a programmer on my staff at a large bank constantly asked if “this was his last week”. Rather than dive into these new and exciting server technologies and become a leader in that transformation, he simply shuffled off the technology cliff into obsolescence.

It’s 2018. If you’re a CTO and you have the same skill sets you did in 2015, you’re way behind the curve.

Just like my System/36 guy, CTOs get to decide how they respond to low / no-code within their IT organizations. Make no mistake about it, low / no-code will happen. What CTOs do today will decide who’s sitting in their chair when it does.

Curing CBDS (and transforming app delivery)
Curing CBDS and transforming app delivery is a pretty simple 6-step process. It looks like this:

Step 1. Pivot thought. The cure begins by realizing it’s about results, not the process. The business doesn’t care about IT acronyms like “SDLC”, “EC2”, or “DBMS”. They don’t care about the woes of legions of overworked DevOps staff. They care about secure Web apps delivered on time and within budget.

Step 2. Learn about low / no-code. CTOs must take the time to explore and learn about low / no-code and decide how it can best leverage the IT organization and business. It’s not a panacea, and it will not completely replace full-stack development. Wise CTOs will partner with an experienced provider specializing in low / no-code cloud technologies who can guide them in their discovery of how this new capability works, how it’s best applied, and how it’s optimally fielded. VeilSun is one of these.

Step 3. Field a POC. Don’t get all tangled up in details and studies. Simply select a single, small, low-risk, and highly-sponsored Web app opportunity and engage your low / no-code partner to develop it. This app should be something that is concept to production in 10 business days or less (yeah, that’s possible).

Step 4. Help the organization envision low / no-code. If your POC is successful, use it to illustrate for the organization how low / no-code can supplement IT full-stack development.  

Step 5. Re-tool IT. Motivate IT staff to step-up and retool their thinking and skills to include low / no-code. IT staff can be invaluable in a low / no-code roll-out, lending their design, governance, and configuration management experience to the organization’s new low / no-code reality. IT should segment development. More complex apps should be IT developed (full-stack or low / no-code) while less complex user-built (yes, user-built) low / no-code apps should have IT oversight and assistance.

Step 6. Build a low / no-code governance framework. Deploying low / no-code in an organization with internal IT should be an organized process which bakes in developer training, governance, and oversight. Just like you don’t want someone working on your brakes who has never been trained to do it, you don’t want Web apps built by departmental staff in the absence of any training, guidance, or oversight. IT should be responsible to ensure low / no-code apps are properly designed, secure, and maintainable - no matter who builds them. That low / no-code inventory app can become your mission-critical ERP app before you know it.

Your Prescription Is Ready
I talk a lot about Quick Base, primarily because I’ve used it for 10 years.

In 2008, I was slap-dab in the middle of a horrible Web software dev project and just decided there had to be a better way. I did a search for “Web software,” and an ad for this “Quick Base” thing came up. I hit the page and subscribed. Quick Base was way low / no-code even before the term was coined—and it changed my CTO life.  

Quick Base quickly became my hammer as I soon realized that many of my Web projects were nails. My project was in production in 2 days.

In the ensuing 10 years, my various staffs and I have deployed hundreds of Quick Base Web apps. Some of these apps took 3 days to field, some took more than 90. Some were departmental apps, some were ultra-secure, full-blown, enterprise ERP systems that obviated multi-million dollar ERP packages. Most were somewhere in between.

As the brand-new CTO of VeilSun (a Quick Base Solution Partner or QSP), my new mission is two-fold. First, continuously innovate at VeilSun. Second, be a low / no-code evangelist to my fellow CTOs.  

CTOing is a tough job. Doing it with CBDS makes it even tougher.

Low / no-code is a reality. In-house IT has a critical role to play in that new reality. It’s ensuring their companies end up with properly designed, secure, and maintainable Web applications—no matter who codes them.

Ty Shewmake is the CTO of VeilSun a “Gold Quick Base Solution Provider” and Quick Base’s “2018 Solution Provider of the Year” specializing in low / no-code development. He has been in IT since 1989. He is a CBDS survivor.


VeilSun is a professional services firm that has helped hundreds of organizations over the last 12 years successfully navigate their Low-Code transformations. Our VeilSun Enterprise (VSE) service is a new framework that provides a quick-start to small and large organizations embarking on (or enmeshed in) their Low-Code transformation.

Ping us anytime to chat about your organization’s Low-Code transformation.