Technology drives modern business. However, the CTO is one of the vaguest positions among senior executives, so it's important to define the CTO's roles and responsibilities.
An experienced CTO is often the oracle of technology in their organization. They bring progressive ideas to the company and find advanced technical solutions.
To hire the perfect person, recruiters must fully understand what is a CTO, and what are the roles and responsibilities of this officer.
Who is a Chief Technology Officer?
The very title of chief technology officer suggests that the person holding this position is responsible for technology in the organization. But this definition of the CTO’s role is too general and does not shed much light on the responsibilities of a typical CTO.
Moreover, keep in mind that there is no single standard for what is a CTO and what this person should actually do. While most organizations stick to the term CTO, some companies use alternative titles (such as Head of Development / Technical Lead, etc.) for this position.
The role of the CTO description is vague because the job title often means different things in different companies. What one company expects from its CTO may be completely different from what another organization expects. It's the same with being a manager or vice president of engineering.
To avoid confusion, let’s stick to their general responsibility - bridging the gap between the business and technical teams (i.e. between business requirements and technical implementation).
My answer to the title question is - as for many IT-related things - 'it depends'. When building a company around a specific IT product, you need business people to imagine the application, designers to make it look cool, and a development team to write the code. Developers (with help from a PM) should be able to take a business requirement and turn it into a working app at this stage, a while they should be good at taking care of their portion of the work, you're going to eventually need someone who looks at the 'bigger picture'. And that includes a variety of stuff, focused on getting obstacles out of the way for both dev and business teams. CTO will know who to ask about a particular piece of code or functionality, what external dependencies are used in the project and if they should be used, where to host the app to make the performance/budget ratio optimal, or how to set up monitoring, so the dev team is the first to know about any issues with the running application. CTO will also help business when talking with external tech partners, and will take the weight of taking part in planning the work to make sure that features are implemented in the most effective way.
Dawid Karczewski, CTO of Ideamotive
Typically, the answer of what is a CTO and what are their duties depend on the company itself, including positions held and industry requirements. We have compiled a customizable list that you can use to describe the CTO position:
- Formulates a vision of how technology will be used in the company
- Denotes the company's goals and timeframe for research and development
- Develops the technical aspects of the company's strategy in line with its business objectives
- Argues that technology resources meet the company's short and long-term needs
- Knows all technological methods that comply with regulatory standards and regulatory requirements
- Identifies and implements innovative technologies that give a competitive advantage
- Manages big teams, big data, and product lifecycle
- Help departments take advantage of technology and act as mentors to team members
- Monitors system infrastructure to ensure functionality and efficiency
- Creates quality assurance and data protection processes
- Monitors KPIs and IT budgets to evaluate technology performance
- Uses stakeholder feedback to advise needed improvements and adjustments
- Communicates technology strategy to partners and investors
- Focused on the consumer, centralized delivery of IT projects to the market
- Makes executive decisions on behalf of the company's technology requirements
What is a CTO's basic skill set?
Not every CTO will have the same skills. Sometimes a lack of experience in this role is inevitable. We've rounded up the best skills to look out for as a CTO:
- Emotional intellect
- Ability to build relationships with people
- Developed communication skills
- Result orientation
- Strategic thinking
- Developed problem-solving skills
- Strong engineering background, practical skills, and technical education
- They lead the team, inspire people
- CTOs understand the subject area, and deeply immerse themselves in the technology of the product they are developing
- Capable of gaining credibility with a critically minded expert development team
- They know how to successfully cut tech debt
Main types of CTO
As a rule, the types of CTOs are categorized according to their main organizational activities. The technical director can focus on:
- software architecture design,
- cloud infrastructure setup,
- many more.
They write and review code written by other developers on the team a lot.
In this case, the CTO is primarily an operations manager who is responsible for leading the engineering team. As usual, the CTO is still an A-level developer with a deep knowledge of programming, but purely development tasks have faded into the background. Instead of coding, these CTOs shape the technology strategy and manage the programmers in their organizations.
In many companies, the CTO is assigned to manage the IT infrastructure in their organization. Here the role includes:
- Data, security, service, and network control for the company
- Implementing the technical business strategy and managing the overall business technology roadmap
Reputable companies often look for this direction of the technical director, but very rarely - startups.
CIO vs. CTO: main differences
So, we know what is a CTO. But how does this position differ from a CIO?
CIO (Chief Information Officer) is a top manager who is responsible for information technology (IT), especially in IT companies or companies whose activities are mainly based on IT infrastructure.
The role of the CIO in the company is to develop an information strategy for business management based on advanced digital technologies, as well as to provide its IT components. The CIO also supervises the employees of the IT department and maintains working relationships with other departments of the company (single project office, business intelligence department, information security department) and management.
CIO performers the next:
- plans financing and controls expenses for the items of their unit
- takes into account materials and equipment
- controls the preparation of automated workstations
- cooperates with partners on the issues of concluding contracts, deliveries of computer equipment, software, components, consumables, and various services
- accepts machinery, equipment, and materials and controls their quantity, quality, and use
- controls the document flow, draws up technical documentation, and prepares reports for the IT department
- they are engaged in supporting the developed and implemented programs, creating work instructions for them
- supervises timely troubleshooting of computer hardware and software
The CIO collects information about the choice of technologies, partners, and equipment and provides them to the CEO with the rationale for their decisions on the benefits and costs of one or another option (for example, outsourcing instead of using their own Java developers and .NET coders).
Unlike CIOs, which focus on the organization of internal IT infrastructure, CTOs focus on the client base outside the company, as well as on business development.
Note: both CTO and CIO are a crucial part of a mechanism.
What does it take to become a great CTO?
- Technical knowledge. In the technical field, previous experience and in-depth knowledge of the industry are vital. Sometimes a technical director can learn along the way, in technical matters it is a little more difficult. A CTO who is constantly up to date with the latest trends is a good bet.
- Strategy. An effective CTO can usually draw on the experience and foresee the path to success through digital strategy development.
- Product and technology management. In high tech, technology and product often go hand in hand. The CTO must understand the product life cycle and understand how to create new products and maintain existing ones.
- Technical business savvy. A chief technology officer with a sense of business prowess is always an advantage in helping to meet the needs of end-users. For many companies, this may include the role of the CTO - implementing CRM and ERP and supporting international teams with technical issues.
- Negotiation and mentoring skills. In order for their departments to operate effectively, the CTO needs to know the strengths and weaknesses of their employees and know how to get the most out of them. The ability to inspire people and convince them of the reality of your vision has its benefits.
- Engineering. A CTO must have some technical experience. Does a CTO devote their time to developing software or platforms? In some companies, the technical aspect plays a big role. Over time, this can decrease, and sometimes a CTO is not required for programming at all.
- Safety and Compliance. Will your chief technology officer be required to optimize and manage the organization's data? In other industries, safety and compliance usually have a much higher priority. Understanding corporate risk and standards can be painful, but extremely valuable knowledge.
As already written, the answer to “what is a CTO” cannot be defined in a couple of lines. The dilemma is that the chief technology officer is a position that sits somewhere between technical execution, operational management, and executive representation. The best CTO has some experience with all of this.
The role of the chief technology officer is essential for the success of both tech startups and globally established software companies. The CTO leads all technical issues and oversees all related processes aimed at solving problems related to the company's software products. It is this person who will make your Node.js developers and Python programmers build top-notch products.
IT companies need a CTO since this role can provide alignment between the product or service strategy and the company's technology stack delivered by a seasoned tech talent marketplace.