Welcome back to another instalment of Talent Talk. Today we are joined by Yaniv Gal, Chief Technology Officer at skin cancer detection, diagnosis and skin-mapping service, MoleMap. Gal provides us with an insight into his day-to-day as CTO, and the importance of understanding your customer when bringing AI powered medical devices to market. Let’s get into it:
1. What does a day in the life look like for a Chief Technology Officer at Molemap?
One of the exciting things about being CTO at MoleMap’s new technology division is that every day brings something different.
A day can start with sitting in on a customer interview, as being close to our customers is critical when bringing innovations such as AI powered medical devices to market. Understanding the customer pains and how to improve their work is a fundamental drive in building the technology roadmap and executing it.
During the day I often meet with the development team, building out the technology roadmap and deciding on which trade-offs to make. AI development specifically is heavy on R&D, so a large part of my role is being hands on, reading about new research and developing the algorithms and mathematical models that power our AI platform.
Together with the Executive team, I work with our Board of Directors and Advisors to collaborate on areas like go-to-market strategy, our clinical research and regulatory approach, whilst communicating what we’re doing in the technology front.
The role of a CTO is also about people, and my day may include 1:1 meetings with my team members to give guidance and feedback on their areas of work, hear about their challenges, discuss new ideas and get their feedback on how I can set them up for success. Recruiting is also a big part of my role, understanding what talents are out there, who we might bring on next and when.
The CTO role at MoleMap is people-focused and includes management, strategic and technical challenges. These make the role both dynamic and exciting.
2. What is one piece of advice you would give your younger self?
Be both humble and confident. Not only that these do not contradict, they are in a sense, complementary. Trust yourself and your skills, but listen to the people around you. No matter how experienced or educated you are, there is something to learn from anyone. By giving people the opportunity to express their thoughts and be heard, you can discover new points of view and new (and potentially better) ways of solving the problems you are dealing with. Listening, when built upon confidence, helps in building trust and empathy which are two of the building blocks of good leadership.
3. What do you feel is the best way to attract and retain tech talent?
Highly skilled individuals are often attracted to a job that they believe will challenge them, make good use of their skills and will allow them to develop professionally. Besides the specific job, people are attracted to a company, which is essentially the people (managers in particular) and the culture. An attractive company will be one that is perceived as a pleasant place to work in and that shows appreciation to its employees. Lastly, the compensation needs to reflect the value of the individual to the company. This is an art by itself and should be handled with care and dignity. As a manager you usually try to reduce your cash burn-rate as much as possible. However, in the rush of moving the business forward it is often easy to forget that the overall cost of having an under-skilled employee in place or replacing a good employee that has left because they were underpaid is usually far higher than retaining them in the first place.
To retain the talent in your company you need to make sure you take care of your employees. Communicate with them regularly and listen to them. Keep your standards high but show empathy when required. Make employee retainment a regular practice in your organisation. For instance, don’t let the employee ask for an annual salary review or ask for professional development budget. Initiate these as they were part of your product development process.
Another (global) employee retaining scheme that is gradually gaining popularity in New Zealand, following international leading tech markets, is long term compensation or ESOP (Employee Stock Option Plan). Studies in the US show that company-broad Stock Option Plans motivate employees, increase long-term commitment, and significantly increase the likelihood of the company to grow in sells or have a successful exit. Letting the employees be part of the journey, knowing that they will be rewarded for the success of the company is a strong incentive to stick around through hard times, and take the extra step when they feel they can do something for the company that is outside of their normal responsibilities.
4. What is one of the biggest challenges CTO’s face?
Building the right team and managing it effectively. Finding the best candidates is often a lengthy and costly process and mistakes in this process are costly and have a large impact on the project. Experience usually teaches you to better pinpoint the skillsets that are required for specific projects and identify the individuals that hold enough of them to be valuable to the project. However, there is rarely a perfect person for the job, and identifying the candidates that have the potential to be or quickly become a great fit for the job is not an easy task. Nonetheless, the best candidates are often not the ones with the most relevant experience, rather the ones that demonstrate an ability to expand their skillset, have deep understanding of their field, think outside the box and commit to their goals.
Leading such a team then imposes other challenges, as a group of skilled and creative individuals, facing complex problems, have the tendency to explore new horizons and try creative solutions. However, one of the challenges of the leader is to keep the team focused on the right goals while allowing creativity and innovation. This includes identifying the ideas worth pursuing while knowing when to say “no” to a good idea in order to keep things on track and in focus.
5. Do you have any mentors? If so, how do they inspire you?
I have learned a lot from many of the people I worked with, starting from my academic supervisors, managers, and colleagues in different organisations. I am a strong believer in constant learning from different sources and had the opportunity to work with many great people from which I could learn and develop both my hard and soft skills.
I believe that mentorship is a valuable concept and practice, especially for roles or career paths that require a rare skillset that cannot be easily acquired. Learning from successful people who have already made the mistakes you are going to do can save valuable time and effort and jump your career forward. Moreover, mentorship does not always have to come from a single or specific person.