One of my favorite things about the role of CTO is how different the role is at different companies. Early on it basically means technical cofounder or at least first technical team member. As the company grows, it can evolve in either the technical direction or management direction or a hybrid of both. Some CTOs are more like lead architects and oversee solely the technical decision making on the engineering team. Greg Brockman has a good take on this, as does my favorite CTO thought leader Camille Fournier (you’ve read her book, right?).
Suffice it to say, it’s a role that can be many things depending on the needs of the company and the strengths of the individual filling the role.
For me, the role is a combination of:
- Leader and manager of the engineering team, and sometimes the entire product team (depending)
- Member of the executive team
I used to joke that the acronym actually stood for Chief Translation Officer because of how important it is to speak the various jargon dialects across the company. (“Reworking the model” for Excel-wizards is “pay down technical debt” for engineers.)
At its core, my responsibility as CTO is to work w/ the members of the executive team to help set and understand the objectives of the company, to translate those objectives into a technical roadmap, and then execute that roadmap successfully.
Part of this skillset is not just engineering management but general management. Effective communication to all parts of the company, fostering a non-adversarial relationship between the product and engineering teams w/ the rest of the company, and striking the right balance of Andy Grove’s black box w/ transparency. It means knowing (or learning) how to hire and manage all types of people – engineers, designers, product managers, tech leads, and so on.
One last note. I’m not here to build a command-and-control organization. Command-and-control is pre-industrial revolution. It’s for unthinking robots who don’t want to make decisions or exercise responsibility over their fates. Other companies do that well – not us. We don’t give orders – we provide goals and we get out of your way.
We’re building a team of people who know what the goals are, have displayed competence and good judgement, and as a result have the autonomy and responsibility to make sound decisions.
Sound interesting? Drop me a line: email@example.com