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CTO Roles and Key Responsibilities
Over 40% of organizations have increased their IT investments in 2020, according to the 2020 State of IT survey. In comparison to 38 percent in 2019, this is an improvement. This trend is expected to continue through 2025.
But technologies evolve at a lightning speed. It means that technological disruptions can cripple a business overnight unless company owners dance to the fast tempo of innovation-focused changes. And the main reason for the lack of foresight is that many companies miss someone in the executive team who can embrace these changes.
We believe that this someone is a chief technology officer or a CTO. If you’ve been wondering, ‘What is a CTO?’ and ‘What does A CTO do?’, keep reading.
Chief Technology Officer (CTO): The Definition
The CTO role, more than any other in the C-suite, is shrouded in misconceptions and misunderstandings. The Chief Technology Officer, or CTO, is a senior executive. Although CTO responsibilities vary, this employee is usually in charge of technology management within a company. Sounds too vague, right?
A CTO is in charge of developing new services and products as well as improving performance. They also keep up with industry and technology changes and assume responsibility for the company’s technological short- and long-term demands.
CTO positions may overlap with other executive technology roles such as Chief Information Officers or Chief Digital Officers, depending on the company’s size and industry. CTOs, on the other hand, report only to the organization’s Chief Executive Officer.
The work scope of CTOs can either take an immediate effect on users or impact the internal performance of the system. The latter is invisible to users, but it allows for future growth and expansion of the company.
Steps To Becoming a CTO
CTOs are in more demand for company leadership, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. As a result, employment is predicted to increase by 10% between 2019 and 2029. It makes technology management one of the fastest-growing job markets, compared to the overall job growth rate of 4%.
Following this executive job route, however, requires patience and quick learning ability.
- The majority of CTOs, like any other IT position, start with a Bachelor’s degree. They can pursue a degree in an area connected to computer science or information science. Engineering or computer science, applied mathematics, and cybersecurity are examples of majors.
- Besides, many companies also prefer executives with Master’s Education. A 2019 study from MIT revealed that over 50 percent of respondents had a master’s degree or higher.
- Companies also give priority to candidates with ascertained knowledge of customer relations, business management, and marketing.
Such breadth of knowledge is essential for far-reaching corporate planning and identifying business objectives.
Hands-on industry experience also bodes well for CTO positions. Thus, before taking on CTO responsibilities, lots of Chief Technology Officers start out as lower-level managers and grow to higher positions. Thus, project managers often get promoted to the CTO role.
As of 2021, the average CTO salary stands at $165,022, according to Glassdoor.
If it’s still unclear ‘what is a CTO’, let’s solve this puzzle by dwelling on CTO roles and responsibilities.
CTO Job Description
We’ve already briefly touched upon CTO roles and responsibilities. Let’s dwell on them in more detail.
In broad terms, these specialists are tasked with overseeing the technology sides of a company. They make sure that technological assets are in line with the company’s growth. In practice, CTO roles and responsibilities boil down to managing technology development for customers or supporting on-site IT processes for the company.
Also, the CTO is the frontman of the technological workforce. Thus, they often raise brand awareness at corporate events such as tech conferences.
Again, this role might mean that the employee wears multiple hats. But in general, the scope of CTO responsibilities will always be connected with one of these fields:
- Technology vision and strategy
- Software development
A CTO is an executive with a solid technical background. They have a broad vision of internal business processes and can think strategically. CTOs can step in to address technical problems, are well-versed in a wide range of tools and technologies, and are aware of the expertise the team possesses.
Below, we list the CTO roles and responsibilities included in most job descriptions:
- Ensure that corporate resources are used and distributed efficiently.
- Offer technological assistance
- Create predictable outcomes by turning project execution into a controlled procedure.
- Identify and implement R&D department goals
- Get the most out of technology for your business
- Ascertain if the technology plan is in line with the company’s objectives
- Monitor current technical systems for potential improvements
- Find and implement cutting-edge ideas that will put a company ahead of the competition
- Identify whether new technological assets are appropriate for the company to use
- Create cybersecurity measures to protect data and client information
- Monitor key performance indicators and allocation of IT spending to assess technology metrics
- Use actionable insights from stakeholder comments to make changes and improvements
- Partner with investors and communicate technological strategy
- Advocate for user-centric centralized IT project delivery
- Make leadership decisions based on the needs of the company’s technology
As you see, there’s a lot on a CTO’s plate. But mind that the exact duties of this job position will be based on the organization and target market.
Skills Needed For a CTO
It’s evident that the CTO is at the head of diverse tasks. It means they have to boast a wide spectrum of know-how rooted in both the technical and managerial realm.
To set up the team for success, the ideal CTO profile should feature:
Profound knowledge of technologies tops the CTO toolbox. This executive also presupposes the aptness for further industry learning, since CTOs should bring new tech ideas to the table. Also, these employees act as technical team leaders. Hence, CTOs might need to brew up solutions to possible technical errors if any occur in the project.
That is why most technical leaders are skilled in computer science and have an in-depth understanding of system architecture, programming and software design.
But technical proficiency doesn’t come down just to programming skills. Instead, all CTOs have to become technical visionaries and step away from the keyboard. This brings us to the next skill.
Strategic thinking and planning
Strategic thinking is essential for C-suite positions since it gives a sense of direction and charts out measurable goals. Successful CTOs have the ability to focus on the helicopter view, rather than spend their resources on supplementary activities.
Thus, organizational leaders establish their image of the technological future of the company and identify the objectives for the team. They also establish the sequence in which these objectives should be reached to achieve the desired outcome. It also means that CTOs should keep up with the emerging trends and know the industry inside and out.
User-centered digitally-powered products are at the heart of most business plans and strategies. And since CTOs act as a bridge between IT and product management, they should supervise the life cycle of a product.
The majority of start-ups may have a CTO who takes on product manager activities or at least is actively engaged in outlining the product planning process.
Chief Technological Officers should also have enough business knowledge under their belt to merge technology-relevant decisions with the company’s results and objectives. This responsibility requires a high-level understanding of how business functions and how it can avail itself of various technologies.
Besides, business-related acumen allows CTOs to better connect and partner with other leaders like CEOs.
Team building and people management
As leaders, Chief Technology Officers need to inspire and motivate other team members so they can successfully implement the business vision. This is when team management skills come helpful. Even a pool of rock-star developers proves ineffective if the leadership is weak. To ensure a high level of productivity, a CTO delegates tasks, while offering guidance and mentoring when needed.
Security and privacy management
Cyberattacks and breaches haunt 51% of tech executives, according to a survey of more than 850 C-suite executives from IT recovery firm Sungard AS. And the number is even higher for CTO and CIO roles – around 56%.
That is why Chief Technological Officers prioritize security and compliance above everything else. This need translates into a profound understanding of enterprise risks and standards.
Along with the acumen mentioned previously, CTOs should also know how to employ tech talent. It doesn’t mean they have to dive deep into the recruitment expertise. But at least basic hiring skills are important for this It role.
The need for this capability is justified since CTOs are in charge of gathering dev teams. Besides, Chief Technology Officers are also responsible for identifying top tech talents, marketable IT skills, and an employee’s compatibility with a particular job position.
Finally, CTOs should be able to spot employee performance issues long before they take a toll on a company’s wellbeing.
CTO Roles And Responsibilities Vs Business Expansion
By now you might have realized that the CTO’s range of duties is rather a variable than a constant. And flexibility is the main hallmark that sums up this professional role. CTOs fill multiple roles as needs change and metamorphose in sync with a company’s growth.
Let’s have a look at how CTO roles and responsibilities evolve based on team maturity.
During the ‘egg’ stage of a startup, the main responsibility of the executives is to prove the practical applicability of a business idea and supervise the plan of action. Also, CTOs might be involved in building the first iteration or MVP of a startup’s projects.
And even if a company can afford a full-scale team, the CTO should become the backup for any roles that cannot be filled immediately. Thus, security issues, testing, and app architecture may also end up in the hands of CTOs.
The scope of CTO work may include:
- Design and build the company’s pilot product
- Iterate and validate an MVP by fetching client feedback
- Oversee architecture to deliver a high-quality, stable, and scalable solution
Now that the company has taken off the ground, CTOs focus on talent acquisition and managing assembled teams. During the build phase, these specialists are usually the most well-informed teammates in the room from a technology standpoint. Thus, they provide their team with the relevant technology stack, perform product management and handle defect triages if needed.
The scope of CTO work may include:
- Collaborate with the CEO to strategize the work that supports the product and organization
- Set up the infrastructure-related technologies and tools
- Manage internal engineering team or outsourced workforce
- Identify and adopt cutting-edge technology that will give a leg up on the competition
Main growth period
When the company railroads into the market, CTOs delegate the majority of tech-related tasks to other workers. Technical vision becomes their main mission. This includes a technical strategy with clear goals, obstacles, and performance metrics.
To make this technical vision a reality, chief technologists should always keep abreast of evolving trends and oversee the chunking of a product’s functional elements.
The scope of CTO work may include:
- Assist the CEO in defining the product’s vision and strategy
- Use stakeholder feedback to propose necessary improvements
- Keep an eye on the servers, operating systems, and application software
- Manage huge teams at all stages of the product life cycle
- Guide departments in adopting technology efficiently and provide assistance to team members
- Combine quality assurance and data privacy activities to ensure compliance
As the business reaches its culmination, the CTO takes on the executive-level position with no engineering tasks. At this stage, they raise brand awareness and embody the company’s mission at tech events, summits, and conferences.
However, they should always be ready for a new focus and stay on the lookout for new technological innovations.
Other CTO roles and responsibilities may include:
- Present technology strategy to partners and investors
- Ensure technologies are used efficiently, profitably, and securely
- Prioritize objectives and targets that contribute to organizational needs aligned with best practices and standards
- Ensure quality management through consistent processes and procedures
Four Types of Chief Technology Officers
Chief technologists come in different flavors also known as four categories of CTOs. We’ll refer to them as the Visionary, the Infrastructure Manager, the Customer Champion, and the Thinker.
This CTO type stays at the forefront of a company’s business strategy. They are likely to be associated with the company from the onset, devising the plan of action. They conceptualize the on-site use of technology and hunt for trending and future innovations to enrich the tech stack.
The Infrastructure Manager
This type of expert works on the battlefield and implements the company’s technical plan. The latter, on the other hand, must be pre-determined, therefore CTOs in this category focus on physical and digital systems, security, as well as sustain an IT product throughout its operational life cycle. They are also in charge of the company’s overall technology roadmap.
The Customer Champion
This type of technologist works at the intersection of customers and business goals. CTOs have an in-depth vision of the company’s clientele and are accountable for customer relations and its influence on UI and UX. They keep up with the target market and promote a high-quality customer experience. This category is especially sought after by IT agencies with a software focus.
The Thinker takes over creating a business model. It also involves strategic tasks like studying the market for competitive technologies and stretching the boundaries of existing tech stacks. This type of CTOs has strong relationships with the CEO and other C-suite but also collaborates with lower levels. Thereby, CTOs make sure their strategy is verified and implemented as intended.
The CTO Your Company Needs
Although the taxonomy is quite broad, companies usually get to choose between two functions of a CTO. The final choice depends on the requirements, market, and development stage of a company.
Let’s have a closer look at the functions:
- The head of technology is a hybrid of an executive and a lead developer. They usually have a technical background coupled with hands-on experience in coding, design, and other related fields. This function prevails over others when CTOs manage the company at its early stages and fill in multiple technical roles.
- The chief of operations function is more common for mature and established businesses. In this case, CTOs also possess profound know-how in programming and technical requirements, but it’s not their main focus. Instead, they take on more managerial tasks and lead a technical team. Operational managers are executive-style CTOs. They know technology, but align it with business strategy.
The position of a Chief Technology Officer has no clear-cut responsibilities. Based on the company’s size and maturity, CTOs can take over both executive-level and strictly technical tasks. In any case, technology leaders unlock the technology potential of a company and help navigate the evolving landscape.
Their role is also salient at the initial stages of business growth. CTOs align an organization’s technology with the business strategy and transition fresh businesses to later stages. They also back up startups on various grounds and get the ball rolling until the business is off the ground.
Therefore, Chief Technology Officers can become your swiss army knife no matter the size and age of the organization.