Many developers aspire to be in a CTO-role someday, but what does it actually take to be a CTO? It of course depends on the size and stage of a company and other factors like how the technology team is structured. In this article we dive into some common characteristics of the role and hear directly from CTO’s about what their jobs consist of.
While it’s true that a Chief Technology Officer may have to wear many different hats in their time (particularly at a startup), the role does have an official definition with which we can work from
Academic Publishers Taylor and Francis define a Chief Technology Officer’s role as follows:
“An executive-level position in a company or other entity whose occupation is focused on scientific and technological issues within an organization.”
Now, while that’s a digestible definition, let’s delve deeper into the true job description of a CTO.
First things first, the title of ‘Chief’ holds great power — and you don’t need me to tell you that with great power, comes great responsibility.
Here’s what what a CTO needs to do to put the Chief in Chief Technology Officer.
On the topic of delegation in particular, we spoke to Convertful CTO Ruslan Sukhar, who gave us his insights:
“Delegation [is definitely part of the job], and it’s a personal challenge for me. For example, I can spend a whole weekend just making sure some specific UX is seamless, although that’s not the most valuable thing I could spend my time on.”
As you might have guessed, a CTO’s role revolves heavily around technology. Here’s how.
Once again we spoke to Convertful’s CTO Ruslan Sukhar about this side of the story:
“I believe that CTO should be involved in business development in a technical way. It means CTO should always think not only about how to develop a certain product but also about how certain technologies can gain additional profits, and/or reduce costs.”
“The CTO’s primary job is to make sure the company’s technology strategy serves its business strategy,” He said.
Reis went on to highlight that a good CTO should also give their company options when their business strategy demands it:
“A mark of a good CTO is that they never say “that’s impossible” or “we’d never do that.” Instead, they find options and can communicate them to everyone in the company. If the CEO wants to completely change the product in order to serve a new customer segment, you need someone in the room who can digest the needs of the new (proposed) business, and lay out the costs of each possible approach.”
Another CTO, Karl Schulmeisters of ClearRoadmap, also shone light on the many different hats a startup Chief Technology Officer has to wear:
“As a startup CTO I wore the following hats; Enterprise architect, SCRUM master, developer, lead quality assurer, social media manager, blogger, [and so forth].”
And Schulmeisters doesn’t seem to be alone in having to swap hats on a daily basis. John Petrone, CTO at LaunchPad Central, concurred:
“I’d say that a startup CTO needs to be something of a jack of all trades when it comes to technology issues. In the last week at my current early stage startup I’ve; phone screened and interviewed engineering candidates, researched a variety of technology directions, set up a new laptop for someone, checked some code, [and more].”
The role of a Chief Technology Officer is complex, and every CTO will have his or her own unique traits to bring to the table. But one thing is for sure, a CTO needs to have his or her finger on the technological pulse — always aware of new trends and the technologies behind them.
A great CTO should be ready to delegate, while also being comfortable enough to work on the frontline, coding alongside their fellow developers. Furthermore, they will be required to be even more flexible if they’re working in a startup.
If you’re still looking for more insights into the life of a Chief Technology Officer, check out our discussions with selected CTOs revolving around the topics of writing good code and managing deadlines at a CTO.
How would you describe yourself as a CTO? Are you a great architect, evangelist, interface designer, debugger, or a helpful Jack of all trades? Let us know in the comments section below!