Good developers know that it's easy to write code. It’s their space, their specialist subject. It’s where they’re most comfortable and they can churn out code at a rate of knots when they’re in that zone. But what’s not so easy is to read it. For most of us it’s like cracking the Enigma and even the same people who wrote a piece of code can look at it a few months later as if it was somebody else's work.
And that’s where a good Chief Technical Officer comes into their own.
Rather than getting too involved with the doing aspect of the tech - which developers are generally hot on already - a good CTO will create an environment where people feel able to do their best work; the infrastructure and systems they work within are rock solid, secure and reliable; and lastly, but most importantly, that developers feel it’s safe to make mistakes and that the whole team has their back. After all, no good idea has ever happened without mistakes and trial and error along the way.
But how does the role of a CTO differ in different organisations?
Take being a CTO at a startup and being a CTO at a large corporate. Totally different roles.
At a large corporate, the CTO is a member of the executive team, liaising between the tech teams, the product teams, and the wider organization. They lead the technical vision of the company, translating corporate priorities and initiatives into technical response and a focus on return on investment.
At a startup, most of those layers within the organization are missing. Therefore, with an often very small team running the ship, CTOs are required to wear many hats, including that of the team’s first (and sole) developer. So in many instances, the CTO has worked at the coalface and has become the company CTO through one of two routes -
they were a rockstar coder who could take something from idea to market through rapid prototyping
they came from a freelance or dev shop background who previously managed tech projects with a great track record and hired engineers smarter than them.
So how can a startup support and get the best from their CTO?
Rock-star coder types usually need support from their CEO/COO — they need to learn how to hire other people and delegate instead of pulling frequent red eyes, cowboy-coding and reaching burnout.
Manager types need support figuring out how to work around budget limitations. They can be great with vision and calculating ROI, but they need to be able to get stuck in and create a product out of thin air when that latest funding round failed when their rockstar coder left, or when the product just isn’t up to scratch,
Any CTO needs a good understanding of the company’s current technologies, their customer base and their competitors. Give them the space and time to learn about new, disruptive technologies and to expand their external networks. With the rapid pace of change in the technology world, no time or resources spent investing in your CTO will be a 404.
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