As your business grows, so do your technology needs. The common assumption is, “We need a chief technology officer,” just like you may need developers. But a CTO is not a super-developer. A CTO is a C-level manager who ensures there is a connection between the company’s business vision and its technological capabilities and staff.
As Matt Collins notes, the role of a CTO includes hiring and training your technical team, helping select tech vendors, and communicating the technology scope across various departments. This means that finding and hiring a CTO can be significantly harder than hiring a programmer. You need a person with both sound technological vision and management capabilities.
If you plan to hire a CTO, here’s a look at how to find a good candidate and the qualities you should look for.
Do we really need a CTO?
You do not necessarily need a CTO, even if you are running a technology company. A CTO is strategic personnel. The role helps ensure compatibility between business strategy and technological progress.
A small tech startup in the throes of building a new product has no need for a CTO; instead they need skilled developers. But if your business has products in the market with traction, then you will have a clearer sense of your business strategy.
At that point, you may consider hiring a CTO. But even then, you may only be able to hire a part-time or interim CTO. The role would be more strategic and lend itself to advice, mentorship and new tech hires on an infrequent basis.
First, know why you want to hire a CTO. Next, gain clarity on how you expect a CTO to help enhance your vision. All too often, founders hire a CTO without defining the role. This causes a disjointed frustration and business suffers as a result.
Find the perfect CTO
Networking can be a valuable way to find prospective CTO candidates. But the process can vary and is dependent on your network.
While a CTO is a senior level manager, he or she must have a considerable technological background. Ask your current tech team for qualified recommendations. Consider in-house promotions as necessary. At the same time, ask colleagues who have hired CTOs which qualities they look for.
In turn, a potential CTO hire should have a large tech network of engineers and developers. This is evidence that your CTO is genuinely enthusiastic and interested in their industry.
Vet potential candidates through referrals. When you’re ready to make the hire, make sure to complete all of the necessary HR and compliance tasks, such as running a background check, etc.
A CTO is a manager, not a developer
A CTO is an actual manager, a strategic “technology ‘czar’ who makes all technology decisions,” according to CIO magazine. A CTO should be just as interested and informed about business strategy as the technology that serves it.
As Eric Ries explains, a “CTO should be the person in the room who can keep everything your technology can and can’t do in their head. That means knowing what’s written and what’s not, what the architecture can and can’t support, and how long it would take to build something new.”
Since a CTO is managing both the business and technology, they essentially serves as a bridge between tech and non-tech team members. This means good interdepartmental communication and leadership skills are important.
Fit and character matters
As noted above, a CTO has to integrate business strategy and technological vision. But if your CTO is constantly clashing your vision and ill-suited for your company culture, then you’re in for a rock road. Non-technical startup founders often face challenges with their tech teams.
A CTO is the “leader of the technical team, they need to build the best team possible given the needs of the business. They need to establish the development and support process and development culture. This obviously extends beyond the development team and requires integration with (or ownership of) support and operations.”
When hiring for any role, character and culture matter even more than skill. People can learn how to code and even manage a team, but the core of a strong hire (and team) is founded on this ideal.
This article has been edited.
Simon Crompton is a freelance journalist and entrepreneur running several online businesses including his marketing firm, Threecolors.blue. Simon spends the majority of his time blogging about business startups and consulting on web development. He has launched multiple online companies. He is also a dedicated follower of fashion, and has written for the Financial Times and GQ. Connect with @PermanentStle on Twitter.