Chief Technology Officer: Understanding the Main Tech Person In a Company

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With tech companies now among the largest businesses in the world, CTOs are some of the most influential and innovative people, those that shape how we live and work. With the technology outlook for the future, these people will drive the striking change both within the company and beyond.

Often considered the company’s tech guru or the smartest programmer in the room, the title of CTO alone indicates that the company is doing something big with technology.

With this article, we’ll dip a toe into the pool of the multiple responsibilities of an average CTO. We’ll describe each of the most popular hats that this C-level executive has to wear.

The role of CTO

CTO vs CIO vs VP of Engineering vs Technical director

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The picture depicts the customary place of CTO in a tech company hierarchy

Chief Technology Officer — tech strategy. A CTO is the main tech person in the boardroom. In a tech product company, their role intersects with the role of a Chief Product Officer. In other organizations, they are often doing the job traditionally allocated to CIOs.

Chief Information Officers — tech infrastructure. Responsible for the company’s inner IT ecosystem, think of them as an evolved version of an IT guy. As businesses started relying on technology more, their role grew to the C-level. The CIO advises on enterprise software, anticipates security and integration problems, and studies the advantages of trending technologies.

VP of Engineering — tech team management. If a CTO is an enthusiast, then the VP of Engineering is a great manager. These two people can be peers or report to one another, and often, one can do the job of both, regardless of the title. Still, the VP is responsible for recruiting for the tech team, reacting to issues in development, and establishing the KPIs and deadlines. In smaller organizations, a CTO can perform these tasks.

Technical director — tech advisor on a team. Another leading technical role often confused with a CTO is the technical director. First things first, a TD is not strictly a software development title. This is a role of someone who provides technical support, manages production teams, and serves as the main tech expert for the team to refer to. Not every project needs one. In smaller teams, a CTO can overlook all tech decisions and management. Which brings us to the next question.

CTO tasks and responsibilities

In terms of tasks, there are two distinctions to be made. There are digital product companies, where CTOs are responsible for product design and are focused on the customer. And there are non-tech companies, where a CTO manages engineering efforts in the organization and makes sure that the digital part of the product works. We look at the full scope of responsibilities.

Engineering tasks

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“Are you still a coder?” byCommitStrip

Do software health checks. A health check is a set of procedures performed after the software or its updates are released. A CTO decides what metrics you should track and what requirements a system needs to fulfill to be considered healthy.

Schedule and perform the release. A CTO is supposed to assess the timeframes for the development team and is responsible for every release the company does. A lot of scheduling is done along with a product manager who compiles a product roadmap.

People management tasks

Mentor tech employees. A CTO may also help with onboarding new engineers, such as writing training programs for them, having occasional interpersonal talks to them, or simply help them cope with engineering challenges.

Serve as the development supervisor. In addition to regular sync ups with the dev team, a CTO also has to guarantee that the team keeps in line with the code standards and development protocol. Executing code reviews is also crucial here.

Employ tech talent. The CTO also has to execute or at least assess the tech talent acquisition. His point of view is critical when making hiring decisions.

Product management tasks

Take part in user research. As a product driver, a CTO has to concentrate on a customer-technology interaction. On the other hand, a CTO keeps track of customer wants and needs to ensure product success on the market.

Make decisions about the product’s future. A CTO has to track the product success, monitor product management metrics, and correct the tech strategy if needed.

System architecture tasks

Introduce a development roadmap. As the main system architect, a CTO has to propose the prioritization of the product features to other C-level executives so that they realize further pathways and steps that must be taken for product development.

Set the criteria. The CTO implements the coding standards and introduces the development protocols to adhere to. This will ensure that the source tech strategy will stay safe.

Make decisions about product improvements. When the R&D team introduces a new feature or a system element that affects the source code or how other elements interact, a CTO assesses all consequences and makes the final decision.

Business development tasks

Scale the technology within the company. A CTO has to observe the market for related technology solutions, learn if they suit the company’s tech strategy and set the acquisition goals.

Foresee tech trends. It is also important for CTOs to predict technology’s application for business. This may include long-term tech trends or the impact of the technology element on a company’s roadmap.

Skills and experience required to become a CTO

Technological awareness. To make better technology strategy decisions, a CTO must be aware of both emerging and existing technologies. This usually includes programming languages and frameworks

Coding skills. Generally, a chief technology officer has a degree in computer science or engineering, has a strong knowledge of software architecture, design, and programming. Since a CTO should solve engineering problems, a solid development background is required.

Business awareness. Some business prowess allows the CTO to match the business goals with end-user requirements.

Product management knowledge. After all, a CTO applies all their technical knowledge, builds the strategy, and deals with business processes to create and enhance the final product. Here, understanding the product life cycle and knowledge of the market and its needs are important.

Team management. Sure, CTOs can’t do the whole engineering thing by themselves. That’s why they have their R&D departments prepared. To run technology strategy implementation smoothly, CTOs have to know the team members’ strengths and weaknesses. Above that, CTOs have to identify the skills at the stage of searching, obtaining, and retaining the tech force. This will help delegate tasks and decide on further steps properly.

Where do CTOs come from? Career background

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CTOs at global brands and their backgrounds


Solution architects

R&D team leads

When to hire CTOs and whether you need one at all

You lack tech knowledge for your startup and need a technical co-founder. Chesky and Gebbia invited Nathan Blecharczyk, who coded the company’s early website, to be Airbnb’s first CTO.

You don’t have a technical advisor in the boardroom. In 2015, Starbucks hired their first CTO, Gerri Martin-Flickinger, to help the company innovate digitally. In the following years, it launched a customer-facing app that became the most globally used payment app.

You plan to build a strong tech team in-house. That’s what Into the Gloss did when they hired Bryan Mahoney in 2014. Just a few months later they launched Glossier, which turned into an eCommerce skincare giant.

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Being a Technology & Solution Consulting company, AltexSoft co-builds technology products to help companies accelerate growth.

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