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Seven qualities of a great CTO

During a recent speaking engagement, a fellow panelist asked what I thought the most important qualities of a CTO were. It sparked an engaging conversation about the different roles CTO’s are playing in organizations today and what qualities were necessary to be a successful technical leader. While there are many great qualities that would be desired, here are seven qualities that I feel are critical in developing long-term results within an organization.

Business acumen

First and foremost, the most important role of a CTO is the “CO”, or Chief Officer. A CTO is a business leader and strategist that specializes in technology. Being a “tech guru” does not define a CTO, just as being a “GAAP guru” would not define a CFO. A strong CTO will understand the business inside and out, backwards and forwards. Using that knowledge, a great CTO will then address how technology can best serve the business.

Continually assesses new trends and technologies

One of the most important roles of a CTO is forecasting where the business will be and what technologies will be needed to support that future state. Continually monitoring and assessing the rapidly changing world of technology is critical to keeping your organization competitive, efficient, and scalable. Remember, this isn’t just about the latest operating systems, hardware, or programming languages. It’s also about proven development methodologies, testing procedures, and architecting a platform that can grow with you.

Engaging and charismatic with clients

CTO’s should hold a very external role in the organization — especially when it comes to interfacing with clients directly. The soft skills that are so important when working directly with existing or potential clients are not just important for your sales team or account managers. A CTO needs to be personable, empathetic, in-tune with market and industry demands, and perhaps most importantly, have the ability to break down complex technical concepts into understandable and relatable context. Remember, when sitting in a client’s board room, there’s likely going to be many more non-technical individuals at the table than technical ones. Your sales team should be clamoring for your CTO’s time in front of their clients. Your CTO should be an asset in closing the account; not someone who is just brought in after-the-fact.

A rich technical background

It’s key that your senior most technologist have a strong history of technical experience. While I’m partial to the exposures the software development world brings, there are several different paths and experiences that can lead to a solid understanding of how different teams, architectures, and products come together. Without hands-on experience in several different roles throughout the product development cycle, costly mistakes are inevitable.

A focus on company culture

A key focus of a great CTO is the culture of the technology division as well as the company as a whole. As a member of the c-suite, there is an opportunity and responsibility to build a culture of innovation, teamwork, and an overwhelming pride in the work being produced. A technology-focused culture aligned with the company’s strategic plan leads to continued successes and opportunities for the entire team; driving retention and the attraction of the right kind of talent to join your ranks.

A passion for team-building and mentoring

Directly correlating with a great culture is a passion for team-building and mentoring. As CTO, there is a great opportunity to share your experiences and understanding of the business and industry with those you work with. Coaching and mentoring builds a stronger, more well-rounded team and will often provide insights into other aspects of the business that may have otherwise been left unnoticed.

Evangelistic

As mentioned earlier, a CTO should be viewed as the face of your organization’s technology. This not only applies to meeting with clients, but getting your company’s name and products recognized for their successes. A publicly active CTO can become a thought-leader in your industry and add significant credibility to your company and your products. An evangelistic CTO will take advantage of speaking opportunities, panels, interviews, and publications as a way to spread the word about your organization, products, and technological achievements.

What other qualities do you feel make a great CTO?

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