CTO Fundamentals - How To Become A Better CTO

CTO Fundamentals - How To Become A Better CTO

What makes a great CTO? Is it technical skills? Mindset? Leadership style?

This is what we’ve tried to answer together with Cornel Fătulescu, Chief Platform Officer at Pentalog, during our CTO Fundamentals webinar series. In case you’ve missed the events or want to review the information from time to time, here are a few highlights. 

The Ideal CTO: Skills, Responsibilities, & Challenges

Many professionals think that the CTO is the best developer, the most experienced one who can solve any issue. For some organizations, that can be true, especially if they’re an early-stage startup where the CTO is actually the only developer or the senior one. For other, larger ones, the CTO role is less about coding and more about:

  • administrative work (a CTO spends 60% of their time on admin-related tasks)
  • discussions with the CEO about the vision for the company
  • helping team members improve their skills, etc. 

Back in the 1950s, when the term was first coined, the goal of a CTO was to translate research into business - CTOs were translators! Since then, technology evolved, and so did the CTO role, and it became more and more confusing what the responsibilities of a CTO were. 

In 2012, there were only 2 books on Amazon that discussed the responsibilities of a CTO. In 2015, Bryan Helmig’s (Zapier) talk at Webrazzi further reiterated the fact that many don’t know what a CTO was supposed to do. Last year, the number of CTO-related books on Amazon jumped to 10, so there’s some indication that people are giving this subject more thought.

If we were to define the ideal CTO in 2021, here’s a list of their responsibilities:

  • translate technology to business and vice-versa
  • co-partner with the CEO / CFO / the Board
  • governate
  • facilitate work
  • enhance agility
  • innovate via technology opportunities
  • balance tech opportunities and risks
  • automate tasks and augment employee capabilities

Find out more about why we’ve chosen these particular responsibilities in the first part of our CTO Fundamentals webinar series:

CTO Strategy

Goals and descriptions are not strategies; most people use ‘strategy’ as a buzzword without fully understanding its meaning. In fact, not everyone agrees on a strategy definition.

Strategy is not operational effectiveness, nor about best practices. Strategy is about:

  • the whole, not the parts
  • knowing your industry and positioning
  • choice and functions you don’t provide
  • the position, not the steps
  • what makes you unique.

A good strategy:

  • can make some customers unhappy
  • should make clear what you don’t do
  • wins over time and can occur at many levels.

Ultimately, strategy is creating a superior economic performance that fuels valuation. We go more in-depth on what strategy is and isn’t in the second part of our CTO Fundamentals webinar series:

CTO Tactics

In the second webinar, we’ve pointed out that strategy is not a CTO’s responsibility; strategy should actually come from the CEO, and the CTO should be part of the Board that advises the CEO. Tactics, however, the steps the organization should make towards the desired outcomes, do fall on the CTO. Here’s an example of how strategy can differ from tactics:

  • Strategy: engage industry thought-leaders to become product advocates
  • Tactics: direct marketing emails, face-to-face meetings, key talking point scripts, etc. 

Strategy is abstract, while tactics are touchable, actionable, like roadmaps, marketing strategy, go-to-market strategy, UX, etc. 

The Board plays a critical role in deploying major changes and enables real business agility. Some of the decisions that should come from the Board are:

  • deploying management zones to protect important initiatives from harming each other
  • assigning a global Agile coach to teach stakeholders holacracy and steadily introduce change into the organization
  • enabling a global governance process to assess the efficiency of the roadmap execution.

If you want to learn how you can create your own framework of tactics, check out the third part of our CTO Fundamentals webinar series:

How To Become a Better CTO

Now, considering all the information in the previous sessions, we can conclude that the ideal CTO knows how to integrate tactics - this should be a CTO’s main responsibility. With good quality time for thinking, less ego, respect for luck, talented Agile teams, more consciousness, and a good understanding of different areas of the company and its customers, anyone can become a better CTO.

As far as skills are concerned, it’s not necessary that the CTO is a technical expert, but rather they should have general knowledge about:

  • cloud computing
  • DevOps
  • culture & methods
  • cybersecurity
  • testing
  • quantum computing
  • data engineering
  • data science
  • architecture
  • tech startups & unicorns, and any other topics that are valuable to the organization. 

This way, it’s easier to come up with valuable insights during Board meetings as well as the right tactics that will enable the organization to accomplish its strategy. 

Soft skills are actually the ones CTO’s should continuously improve. Skills like:

  • leadership
  • communication
  • emotional intelligence.

Find out more about why it’s important for CTO’s to develop these skills in the last part of our CTO Fundamentals webinar series: