What does a CTO do?

I get asked this question often. It is an interesting role as it seems to have varying meanings to different companies. Often the CTO position is the least defined role in the C-Suite.

In general all outward facing technology strategy and leadership comes from the office of the CTO.

The role of CTO is often misunderstood by other executives. This is one of the reasons it is critical to work with an experienced leader with great communication skills that can set proper expectations from the beginning. I have had many interviews over the years for the CTO position and I usually know within the first few minutes if the role is clearly defined and if the company understands the importance of the role.

What is a Chief Technology Officer (CTO)?

Simply put, the Chief Technology Officer is the Executive responsible for delivering value for the company by driving the overall technology strategy resulting in product delivery. The CTO aligns business goals with technology initiatives. These initiatives are usually customer facing, unlike the CIO role in which everything is focused on inward ‘customers’.

A great Chief Technology Officer is an alchemist, blending the perfect amounts of business acumen, creativity, and leadership to deliver great products and services to their customers.

As stated, the CTO role can differ from company to company but usually includes everything from: 

  • Technology vision and strategy
  • Budgeting
  • Vendor/Partner Management
  • Innovation
  • Software development
  • Infrastructure

Responsibilities of the CTO. This is not an all inclusive list and is meant to cover the basics:

  • The CTO must effectively own, develop, articulate, and continually evolve the company’s strategic technical direction.
  • The CTO is responsible for making certain the company continues to have the best technology offering in an ever evolving highly-competitive landscape.
  • The CTO brings proper alignment between business and technology strategy by staying abreast of technology trends and translating how those trends impact the company thus indicating where the company needs to go next, aligning the company’s technology strategy with its business strategy.
  • The CTO must rally people internally around the long-term vision of the company, as well as convince customers, board members, and investors that this is where the world is going to be, and that his/her company is the best choice to take them there.
  • The CTO must speak with authority about the market needs, must be credible with customers, and must be able to articulate the business value and ROI to a variety of audiences at different levels.
  • The CTO must build and maintain a healthy culture that attracts and retains top engineering talent.
  • The CTO must act as the decoder for tech speak to the rest of the C-Suite and the distiller of the requests from the C-Suite to the engineering team.

How should a CTO’s performance be measured?

  • Delivery against expected business objectives. All technology initiatives must be aligned to business objectives.
  • Health of the engineering team. Has the CTO been able to build a culture in which people want to work? Is retention an issue?
  • Strategy – How has the CTO performed as a strategist. Are they helping to stay ahead of industry trends and competitors? Are the bringing insight and value to the products that are being delivered?

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