Friday, April 4, 2014

How Do You Find a Perfect Chief Technology Officer?

If you're building a technology company, there is one person, alongside the CEO, who can make or break your organization. That person is the Chief Technology Officer. The CTO will ultimately be responsible for transforming the CEO's vision into reality and executing on the company vision.

That's not an easy job. The CTO must combine a keen insight into the company mission with a high level of cross-functional knowledge in order to provide a catalyst that can transform the vision into digital format. Great communication and leadership skills are essential in a person who is charged with securing, motivating, and managing the talent that will execute on that vision. Finally, the CTO must act as a bridge leveraging technology developments occurring outside the organization to create value on the inside. Few possess the talent to drive both, but the CTO who can drive innovation will ultimately be able to evolve technology solutions to meet client needs.

If you have a small team and limited access to resources, your technology co-founder will probably have to wear a lot of different hats as you grow and diversify your technology team to include software engineers, quality analysts, technical writers, development leads, usability experts, deployment, security, and others.

It is important to realize that technology co-founders don't always make great CTOs. It is therefore crucial to communicate closely and openly to make an objective assessment and identify the possible skill/experience gaps that might prevent your company from executing on the technology front. If you find that bringing in outside talent will increase the likelihood of success, it is important— when planning your next step—to consider the resources available and the timing of your decision in the context of your company goals. Don't get hanged up on the term. A CTO can play different rules depending on your business environment. There is nothing to say that COO or CIO cannot adopt areas of responsibility typically thought of as CTO domain.

Finding the Perfect CTO

Track record: Look for someone with experience leading a technology organization. Do they have a technology background? Are they an effective leader? Are they naturally inclined to keep abreast of evolving trends in technology?

Does it matter whether or not they've ever been an actual CTO? Not necessarily. If they possess the drive  and have the necessary background and personality traits they can become successful technology leaders in your organization. No one is a born CTO.

Domain knowledge: not a must, but experience in your space helps to reduce the learning curve and make the CTO more effective faster. It's also possible that someone from a different industry could bring valuable insights to enrich your vision.

Do they speak your language? Can you communicate effectively beyond buzzwords and technology hype to reach the value you're trying to create? If you choose to share your vision during the interview process, is the candidate able to understand it and critique it intelligently (apart from telling you that it's awesome)? Would they be willing to embrace it and work tirelessly to make it a reality?

As with any executive position, it is crucial to be as thorough as possible (link to blog posting) during the interview process.

What are the characteristics of a perfect CTO?

Rachel, Dmitry, Dan

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