Do you even need a CTO?
At NONA we deal with a range of businesses in different phases of growth and maturity. Because of our technical expertise and the broad range of our development experience, we often get asked by businesses large and small to help find, vet and place a CTO.
This is no small feat.
Good CTOs are hard to find. But more than that, the decision to hire one should be thoroughly interrogated. While a good CTO will add a lot of value to a business, they aren’t a silver bullet, and they don’t have magic wands. You need to understand what you’re doing, but also, crucially, why you’re doing it. And so, we decided to put some thoughts down in the hope they might help you make better decisions around this critical part of your business.
VPE or CTO?
In many businesses, this role is effectively played by the same person. So if you’re going to split them up, you need to understand why you’re doing it. To start with, let’s go through the key difference between a VP of Engineering and a CTO as we understand it.
The VP of Engineering makes sure that your business is running well and that the teams are doing their tasks to standard. Note: if you’re outsourcing your software to a software development partner, management of that process should sit under the VP of Engineering.
A CTO on the other hand deals with the future, and understands what opportunities the company needs to take advantage of further down the line. If you need a ‘keep the lights on’ type of guy, you need a VP of Engineering. If you want someone with strategic vision, industry connections and the ability to influence the company’s technological future, you need a CTO. In either case, the inspiration to drive a culture of continuous improvement in the technical side of the business needs to sit somewhere!
“There’s a reason the world’s best CTOs don’t get that role until an average of 24 years after higher education, eight positions and four companies. It takes years of observing trends and learning about the industry as a whole to understand the larger patterns at play. Understanding those patterns is what the CTO should be doing.”
— Daniel Hindi, Forbes
Promote or Hire In?
When choosing to promote from within or hire from outside for either role, it’s a good idea to evaluate your team. Will an outsider have the industry and project-specific knowledge to take on the business’ projects? Do you have someone internally with the drive and foresight to strategically lead a business?
Regardless of the direction you choose to take, four key considerations in this area are the following:
- Evaluate why you need this person. Does technology give you a considerable advantage in the market? Do you need someone to solely focus on and drive a real competitive edge for your business, and do you have enough resource to support this person operationally? Or do you perhaps just require your more conventional technology needs to be well taken care of?
- Do you have a compelling tech story in your business? If you don’t have the financial clout of a large company, you will probably be giving away equity to entice someone really good to walk the journey with you. Is that person going to believe in your vision, and buy into it 100%?
- Is this person a culture fit for the company? They’re going to be part of the leadership team, and determining the focus of an important part of the business. They’ll also need to get buy in from the engineers in the company, which can be no mean feat. If they don’t fit in and the energy isn’t good, they’ll probably be more trouble than they’re worth.
- Do you have the correct advisors? Even if your background is technical, you should be thinking about getting expert external advice on any potential candidate’s skillset. Thoroughly understanding the experience and capability of anyone in this role is incredibly important, as they are fundamental to the success of the business and you are admitting as much by wanting to hire them.
Key Questions to Consider:
- In terms of background and experience, what industries or verticals have they been in? What was the nature of their previous roles?
- What have they built/what projects have they been a part of and seen to fruition?
- Where have they failed and why?
- Can they have a technical conversation with those they will be managing?
- Do they have a network within the industry?
- What does the future look like to them?
We hope that helped! At NONA, we’ve been asked to interview, onboard and train resources from technical dev teams to VP’s of Engineering and CTOs. Usually, this is to ensure a smooth handover of the work we’ve been doing with our partners. We’re always looking to learn, so whether you want to talk about the future of your business, or just chew the fat on tech and dev, please get in touch!