Geek gourmands

A group of chief technology officers gathers for a grand dinner and to contemplate what makes a good geek.

Published June 18, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

Ain't the Internet economy great? Another night in San Francisco, another gourmet banquet for high-powered geeks. On Wednesday evening, two Internet start-up companies, Accrue and IPivot, dropped a bundle on a private room at San Francisco's swanky Farallon restaurant -- just so a group of chief technical officers of other Internet start-ups could gab the night away talking about just what it means to be a CTO.

The ostensible reason for the gathering was to help CTO Dan Woods gather tips for a book he wants to write -- on how to be a good CTO. The more obvious agenda was to let Accrue, a manufacturer of high-end Web site traffic measurement software, and IPivot, an e-commerce infrastructure solution provider, get chummy with precisely the kind of people who would have the most power to sign the purchasing orders for their products.

CTOs tend to be a particularly interesting species of geek. Often, a CTO is the founder of a company, the technically savvy entrepreneur with an idea that simply must be made into a product, or at the very least provide the excuse for a fabulously lucrative IPO. But even if the CTO isn't the founder, the consensus of the group gathered at the Farallon is that the CTO is the person who must translate a company's goals into actual tactics -- through the appropriate use of constantly changing technology, and the management of software developers who, if they're any good, are probably unmanageable.

Not an easy task. Successful CTOs are pretty smart, and certainly the brainpower assembled Wednesday was impressive. But while the tidbits shared about management philosophies and technology strategy may have been helpful to CTO Woods, who steered the discussion with a firm hand on the tiller, one sensed that the conversation would have been considerably more interesting if it had been left to drift freely. Overheard snatches of conversation made knowing references to start-ups that had blown up or otherwise gone spectacularly sour. A few leading questions about where Internet technology might be headed would no doubt have sparked some stimulating predictions. But this train of talk never left the tracks. Instead, plenty of business cards were exchanged, and jokes about venture capitalists were made while bottles of merlot and plates of oysters, quail and salmon were consumed. Conspicuous consumption indeed -- and why not? It's the golden age of the Internet economy -- might as well eat and drink up while searching for that next software solution.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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