We researched 58 of Berlin’s top CTOs. Here’s what we discovered.

Chief Technology Officers (CTO) are responsible for the effective integration of technology into firm strategy. It is through them that product vision is communicated and realized. Yet, the role of CTO is commonly misunderstood and the profile is not as clearly delineated as other C-level positions.

To celebrate the launch of Honeypot’s CTO Club and Honeypot’s successful placement of numerous senior technical positions, such as CTOs, Lead Engineers and Senior Developers with European startups, we undertook a study of Berlin’s CTOs. Through Honeypot data, LinkedIn, XING, Crunchbase and other sources, we surveyed 58 CTOs — or equivalent — from Berlin’s top startups. Combined these startups have raised more than $3.06 billion in funding . The companies span 26 industries and were all founded after 2006.


Some insights from our research include:

  • These 58 CTOs represent companies who have raised $3.06 billion combined capital
  • Over 60% of Berlin’s CTOs are German by nationality
  • 7% of Berlin’s CTOs are American by nationality, but the companies they lead have raised 34% of the combined capital, a disproportionality large slice of the total
  • Our research found not one single female CTO among Berlin’s startups.
    All CTOs in our sample have Bachelor’s degrees, but only 72% come from technical backgrounds.
  • Agile, Scrum, PHP, Java and MySQL are the most commonly cited skills among Berlin’s CTOs.
  • Over 40% of Berlin’s CTOs are co-founders of their current ventures.
    12.3 years is the average years of experience of a Berlin CTO.

Nationalities of Berlin’s CTOs

Born in the USA! (takes second place)

Berlin’s CTOs are fairly homogenous in terms of nationality, with close to 60% hailing from Germany. French and American are the second most common nationalities and following this there is a diverse spread covering 13 nationalities in total.

When looking at nationality in relation to capital raised per company, it is interesting to note that while American CTOs represent just 7% of the sample, they control 34% of the total value of the capital raised. This compares to German CTOs, who control 27% of the capital raised, despite representing over 60% of the group.


Gender of Berlin’s CTOs

It’s a man’s world!

While many initiatives exist within companies to encourage female developers, the lack of women entering computer-based careers is most evident at the top. 100% of CTOs in our sample are male. Berlin’s ecosystem has developed a number of initiatives to support female developers. Examples such as Geekettes, Rails Girls and DjangoGirls offer mentoring and free programming classes to women interested in software development. Meetups, such as GeekGirlsCarrots and WomenWhoCode offer a chance for female techies to practice speaking, network and share experiences.


Job Titles

What’s in a name?

Not every startup has a CTO. This can be due to the size of the company or the unique needs of the product. 80% of the companies we surveyed had a CTO. When a CTO was not present in the company, the most senior technical leaders were either SVP of Technology, VP of Engineering, Head of IT or Chief Architect.


Educational background2 of Berlin’s CTOs

Time for School

Despite the precedent set by the role’s name, there is some debate in tech circles about the necessity of a technical background for CTOs. On the one hand, it can be hard to manage a development team when you have little technical knowledge. On the other hand, technical skill does not necessarily translate into leadership skill.

Our research shows that Berlin’s startups are taking diverging approaches to this challenge. Close to a third of the companies surveyed employ CTOs with non-technical backgrounds*. While technical background is not as important as expected, education in general is very valued: 100% of the CTOs surveyed had Bachelor degrees and over two-thirds of CTOs have reached Master level of education with backgrounds as diverse as Computer Science, Art, Business Admin, and Physics.

The most common educational path for CTOs is a bachelor in Computer Science followed by a Master in IT. IT can refer to degrees such as IT Management, Business Information Systems, Business IT, and in Germany Wirtschaftsinformatik (Business Informatics). This educational path reflects the dual technical and business responsibility of CTOs, who to be successful must balance a variety of topics, including information system management, project management, systems analysis and design, and networks and communications.


What skills are most commonly cited by CTOs?

Sticking to the fundamentals

Development Methodologies

Agile and Scrum

While Agile is a general philosophy of software production, Scrum is an implementation of that philosophy related specifically to project management. Other popular methods of Agile implementation include eXtreme Programming (XP), Lean and Kanban. Scrum’s iterative process to software development allows practitioners to leverage new information and insight into product build.

Programming Languages

Java

Java was created to be a platform-independent programming language, meaning code written in Java can be executed on any platform, architecture or operating system. Today Java is one of the most common programming languages used in the development of web applications and platforms: Gmail. YouTube, Twitter and LinkedIn all run Java in some part and it is popular with large enterprises and in the financial industry. Android is also built on Java. While its flexibility is touted by some in the phrase “write once, run everywhere”, its difficulty and opaqueness is admonished by others “write once, debug everywhere”.

PHP

PHP is an open-source general-purpose scripting language. Unlike Java and Python, PHP was created specifically with web development in mind. A large part of PHP’s success is due to popular applications, such as Wordpress, which was developed using the language, and to the multiple frameworks, such as Laravel and Symfony, which make the language more malleable to specific problems. With the rise of new programming languages such as Ruby, Python and Scala, PHP has been losing some popularity,

Database Management Systems

MySQL

MySQL is an open-source database management system (DBMS). This essentially means it is a system which lets you store and retrieve data as efficiently as possible. A large community of developers help to maintain, debug and upgrade it. Although MySQL competes with proprietary DBMS from Microsoft and Oracle3, it is well-suited to small and medium-sized web pages and is most commonly-used with PHP.


What experience do Berlin’s CTOs have?

Finding and Founding CTOs

Over 60% of Berlin’s CTOs were either (co-)founders of a previous venture or (co-)founders of their current venture. More often than not, CTOs are co-founders of the companies with which they currently work, reflecting the core technical skills which are frequently required to build a successful startup.

The average years of experience Berlin’s CTOs have before entering their current position is 12, though some intrepid self-starters have entered the position just 4 years after leaving university.


A Note about the Companies Surveyed

Selection Criteria of the Companies surveyed:

  • all companies are HQ’d in Berlin
  • all companies are founded after 2006
  • all companies have raised a minimum of $500,000

This report was compiled from Honeypot data and publicly-available data and is accurate to the best of our knowledge, as of December 1st 2015.

Written by: Emma Tracey


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