As head of technology at Yahoo!7 — a 50-50 joint venture of Yahoo! and Seven West Media — Craig Penfold has a role that encompasses everything digital.
His team at the digital media company has a headcount of about 45 people. "It's made up of media engineers, mobile engineers, platform guys who are more backend engineers; I've got security specialists, product management, internal IT as well ... we have also got the network operations guys who manage the data centre and all that infrastructure."
"That all sits under me," he says.
Penfold's team is responsible for the entire tech stack at Yahoo 7 and Yahoo New Zealand. "We're responsible for building most of our media properties," he says. "So things like lifestyle and TV, which are currently number 1 in the market, as well as the front page, all of our mobile apps come out of this building. And on top of all that our publishing platforms, our engineering processes, our QA processes — we're responsible for all that."
Penfold can trace his fascination with technology to an early age, when his father gave him a Sinclair ZX Spectrum with 16KB of memory. "I just kept on tinkering with it and I had that technical curiosity — I wanted to pull it apart, see how it worked and create stuff with it. So I started developing on it and building little programs on it which I loved being able to show off to people... I was about 13 I think. And the love of technology developed from that."
Now, when he is hiring, Penfold says that that kind of curiosity and drive to learn about technology is one of the things he looks for in candidates. "We want people who as kids used to pull apart their radio to see how it worked and like tinkering with stuff, and like looking at what the new tecnicolgy is and playing with it, and trying to figure out how it all works."
Penfold came to Yahoo!7 about five and a half years ago, after stints in software engineering at the ABC and Optus. When he signed on at the digital media company it was as a software engineer and the company had a headcount of 160-170. The headcount has grown to more than 500 in his time at the company, and his career has grown along with it, shifting from engineering into management roles and a "few horizontal moves", before ending up as head of technology.
Shifting from a hands-on software development role to management can involve something of a "grieving period", Penfold says. "You don't get to get your hands dirty and play with the code as much as you'd like." That's not to say he doesn't code at all; it's just he tends to do it in his spare time now, he explains.
"My focus now, and this sort of developed as I became a manager, is learning how to lead people; not necessarily manage them," Penfold says. "Once you can lead them and see them evolve and grow as engineers, you can really look back with a sense of pride to see how they develop and the things that they work on, and us as a technology group what we can deliver and how it's improved."