Career in IT: Chief Technology Officer

Career in IT: Chief Technology Officer


CTO (Chief technology officer) is one of the leaders of the company, responsible for developing new services or products, and  for optimizing productivity: managing development processes in project teams, training and professional development of employees, implementing and supporting various processes within the company.

Tasks and Responsibilities

Like all top managers, CTO is responsible for the company as a whole, and not for separate products or services. But, if the CEO / CFO determines what the company is doing and for which audience, the task of CTO is to ensure the efficient use and distribution of company resources, turning project implementation into controlled processes with predictable results.

CTO's focus is on the technical aspect of the product, its quality, performance, efficiency, reliability and lifetime. The goal is to ensure that the company's technology strategies are consistent with business strategies.

The main difference from other top positions is the management of the technical part of the business and production resources, and involvement in technical decisions. CTO is necessarily a technical specialist with experience in independent solving of engineering problems.

As for the technical component, the following statement of one of the interviewed technical directors can be cited:

“In my understanding, CTO is a very good architect, a very good team lead, a good argumentator and just a person who understands people and business. The last point is a key difference from any technical position. A technical architect usually looks at the task of building an information system from a technical point of view. CTO should see the whole business and be able to find a competent balance between technology and business logic.”

The responsibilities of a CTO post can vary greatly depending on the size and type of company (service or product). In general, a chief technology officer is an executive top manager whose position involves the strategic resolution of scientific and technical issues in the organization and does not involve participation in the development of specific tasks and projects.

The responsibilities of CTO may include:

- Definition of common technical development strategies;

- The adoption of global technical solutions;

- Internal technical arbitration;

- The choice of technologies that will be used in a particular project;

- Evaluation of these technologies in terms of financial and time costs;

- Evaluation of the duration and complexity of projects;

- Planning and building development processes;

- Formation of development teams;

- Distribution of tasks between teams;

- Tracking the progress of projects;

- Ensuring the pace and quality of development at the highest level;

- Selection and implementation of support systems for development and administration;

- Expert suggestions on architecture or specific technical solutions;

- Writing code, code reviews, refactoring;

- Technical pre-sale of key projects;

- Management of technical risks on projects;

- Communication with other departments and top managers of the company (CEO, COO, CIO, etc.);

- Coordination of the work of departments;

- Technical interviews with new employees;

- Assessment of employee productivity and decision on the level of their salaries;

- Employee training;

- Formation of a working atmosphere in the team, employee motivation;

- Debriefing with team lead 

CTO is an intermediary between business requirements and their implementation.

“From the side of business, I work closely with all top management and translate their desires, visions and ideas into the technological plane. That is, I answer all the technical questions of the other tops: can we do this, what is the problem with this?”

“All strategic technical issues spill over from business requirements. So, for example, during the meeting it is announced that a long-term advertising campaign has been launched -- in this case, I must understand what kind of load this campaign will create on a specific site, what resources we need to provide and develop for this campaign, and what kind of work will be needed, in addition to obvious development steps. If this assessment is accepted, the task goes into development, otherwise we collectively (with the participation of all interested persons from other departments and, possibly, the management) decide how to sacrifice the functionality with minimal losses."

A typical CTO’s day includes:

· Analysis of reports on ongoing projects and staff;

· Telephone calls with key customers and / or foreign management;

· Meetings with project managers;

· Meetings with the working group;

· Writing technical specifications and delegating tasks to the staff responsible for them;

· Consulting on analytics;

· Brainstorming;

· Catching up on tasks in projects.

And also periodically:

· Interviewing potential employees;

· General meetings with all developers;

· Coordination of the workflow for the future;

· Team training.

60-80% of the time is working with people. Usually, if there is nothing urgent, the day consists of blitz meetings to informally find out the status of urgent tasks, listening to complaints / praises from employees of the department, and learning about conflict situations. 

Advantages and disadvantages

The main attraction of this position is the power for decision-making and level of responsibility for the result. Another advantage is constant personal development. The CTO position opens up new facets of the production process, making us think not only about the technical value of of the code, but also about its qualities as a product, and about the prerequisites for this quality. A lot in this position depends on soft skills and requires the knowledge of psychology, self-development, motivation, self-discipline. CTOs also like that their position as a manager includes working with people, the ability to take part in hiring the team of professionals. Other advantages include not having to work on one particular technology and write the same projects for several years. 

The disadvantages of the position are centered around the many responsibilities and close involvement with the projects. The higher the position, the more tasks you need to perform, control or just keep in mind. There is no option of “plunging” into an interesting purely technological engineering task, there is a constant need to be distracted by the decision of organizational issues. Many processes depend on the CTO, that is why it is difficult to take a vacation for more than 10 days.

Communicating with people also often requires extra effort. The discomfort is caused by an eternal, exhausting war with the so-called “bottleneck of von Neumann architecture”. Like the elements of any aircraft, people can work faster and better if communication between them is easier. Establishing communication is the most difficult thing psychologically. A lot of time is spent on resolving conflicts between departments.

How to become CTO and where to go next?

The career path to this position in the general case involves the following steps: software developer --> team lead -> project manager -> CTO.

In practice, the picture is as follows: out of 843 Ukrainian CTOs in the LinkedIn search database for the sectors “information technologies”, “software development”, “telecommunications” and “Internet technologies”, the system finds 335 former PMs, 165 former Team Leads, 90 people with both PM and Team Lead experience, as well as 129 former Architect and 42 former QA.

To become CTO, you need to develop as widely as possible in the technical direction and be sure to follow the trends in the subject area of ​​the business. And also take the initiative in communication, organizing teams and workflows. You need to be goal-oriented, results-oriented, able to communicate with people and speak the language of business, have analytical thinking, be a leader, ready to make decisions, and take responsibility.

You need to love people and be able to understand them: developers, QA, managers, analysts. To be able to correctly present your thoughts to everyone. To help avoid and resolve conflicts between teams and departments. 

It is also important to learn how to quickly switch between tasks and the scope, taking account of details as well as overall strategy, how to quickly respond to any changes in the situation.

Career development for CTO implies horizontal growth, working with large volumes of data and a large audience. This opens up access to new approaches and new technologies.

CTO is the top job for an engineer within company. There is a possibility to grow into a CEO or even to fund own company. 

13:44 Sunday, 6 October 2019


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