No Coding at All?
Of course, I do still write some code from time to time. I often do it to prototype an idea that’s floating around in my head. Also, I just enjoy writing code and want to stay up-to-date with the latest trends. It makes it easier for me to connect with developers if I truly understand their work.
But, in the first place, a CTO must be able to translate a company's vision into a technical landscape. A landscape with a set of suitable applications that support the company goals. One you can then sell to your peers in the boardroom in a way they can all understand.
What does a CTO do?
Depending on the needs and size of the company, there is variation in the role that a CTO plays. In a start-up, a CTO works hands-on with customers to fine-tune the product-market fit. In an SME-sized company, the CTO is usually the visionary / evangelist.
I believe that A CTO utilizes technology to create competitive strategies and products. Both with valuable and measurable goals. Implementing technology for the sake of implementing technology should never be the goal.
When are CTO’s critical?
Some companies do not use enough technology to justify a full-time CTO. Although they are becoming increasingly rare.
Based on past experiences, I can think of a few big moments when hiring a CTO is critical:
- When in need of a visionary plan, matching the long-term goals;
- When you’re evaluating the use of new technology;
- When you are looking to innovate or disrupt your industry;
- When you have a buy and build strategy;
- When you are planning to invest in new (strategic) software (ERP, CRM, etc.);
A fractional CTO can be enough for you
For many companies, it should be enough to hire a fractional CTO. A fractional CTO helps you execute your technological strategy on a part-time basis.
This is a way to get someone with the CTO skillset onboard without draining your bank account. Most companies need help to bridge the gap between business and technology. A fractional CTO can often help you achieve that even better than a full-time CTO.
I, for instance, believe that being a CTO is not a 40 hour a week job. It can be, yes, but it’s definitely not (always) necessary to reach your goals. Being there when it matters most is the most valuable for both the company and the CTO.
The benefit of scarce resources is that you’ll use them effectively. Also, when I'm a scarce resource, it drives me to deliver the right thing at that very moment.
It should always be a hands-on job
Why? A hands-on CTO has been active in most of the roles himself. This increases credibility with the team(s). It speeds up gaining trust and builds momentum faster. Insert yourself into the team instead of leading from the sidelines. Allow yourself to learn the business challenges faster.
“Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.” ~ Albert Einstein
As I said, IT is (still) done with people. Start understanding the motivation, grudges, joys, and pains early on. That's the best way to help the people, team(s), customer(s), and company (yes, in that order).