Kevin Li Ying is the CTO of multimedia powerhouse Future. The $2.1bn company is the owner of publications like PCGamer, TechRadar and Marie Claire.
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In the latest instalment of our CTO Talk series, Li Ying reveals why he believes being a people's person is the best quality a CTO can have and why data science is the technology of the future.
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Eric Johansson: Tell us a bit about yourself – how did you end up in your current role?
Kevin Li Ying: My career at Future started as a programmer when they acquired the company I was working for in the early 2000s. This was a huge opportunity for me as I was able to help guide Future through the digital transformation of the publishing world, and accrued skills in project management and team leadership along the way. I was appointed chief technical architect in 2014 to take a strategic focus on accelerating digital revenues and diversifying the business model, before being made CTO in 2016.
Where did your interest in tech come from?
It goes without saying that I’m passionate about technological advancements and innovation. But more importantly, I have a strong desire to be a problem solver, finding answers to genuine, complex issues.
My experience is in software engineering, which is about building a sustainable technology framework and facilitating innovation. It’s for the real world – and this motivates me every day.
How do you separate hype from genuine innovation?
Innovation has many faces, but genuine innovation is outcome-driven. It derives a positive and measurable outcome. This can be a collaborative process that builds, tests, and delivers; the important part is that it provides improved and sustainable solutions for businesses, consumers, and customers. True innovation endures; it’s future-facing, understanding tomorrow’s ambitions and making the most out of today’s resources.
What one piece of advice would you offer to other CTOs?
Over 23 acquisitions in six years, I’ve learned that people are crucial: they are at the heart of everything. Software systems, design, architecture – these are simply realisations of human ideas.
So ensure your team and your employees are happy, help them work together, and you’ve made your first step towards your desired outcome. Active listening is important in this respect, an underrated skill that is fundamental to collaboration. Finally, it’s important to remember that what’s new and shiny will not always deliver. Choose wisely, learn properly, and master the solution you choose. Becoming the best at using a tool will support its viability and longevity, even if it’s not the one everyone else is choosing.
What’s the most surprising thing about your job?
What’s surprising is that I am still, after nearly 20 years in the field, enjoying my time at the same company. And this is because I’m continuing to learn every day. You can’t learn, grow, or improvise unless you make mistakes, which is the same in tech as it is anywhere else. Mistakes happen, the same way success happens - the way forward is understanding the “why” and carrying these lessons into the future. It is fantastic to have the opportunity to learn in this way at Future.
What’s the biggest technological challenge facing humanity?
The day software becomes sentient. While we may not see this in our lifetimes, these technological systems are built into the critical infrastructures (water, electrics, government) holding up our society. If they wake up, that will be a huge challenge for us to manage.
What's the most important thing happening in your field at the moment?
Data science is going to rule the world. Being part of that field now means we have an edge over competitors, allowing us to use data to pinpoint and predict trends to inform our content. That’s why we acquired Waive earlier this year to complement our existing Aperture platform.
However, smart data science is becoming more widespread and those at the front of the pack now won’t necessarily remain there. This is where we’ll see the crucial value of people once again. No matter the tech or skill, having brilliant minds behind it all will always be important.
GlobalData is the parent company of Verdict and its sister publications.