What does a Chief Technical Officer (CTO) do?

The rise of robot novelists, virtual reality à la The Matrix, automated surgeries… reality are quickly transforming into science fiction. In order to match this integration of technology in our everyday lives, large corporations realized that a single C-level executive would not be able to follow the trends/developments while keeping internal operations running smoothly. That’s when the role of the Chief Technical Officer (CTO) arose, to share the duties of the Chief Information Officer (CIO).

In this article, I’ll be talking about traditional “corporate” CTOs at mid-to-large corporations. Some corporations—not all—split the responsibilities between a CTO and a CIO. For startups, however, usually, a single CTO is in charge of all the technological operations. 

You can check out my ‘CTO vs. CIO’ article if you want an in-depth look into the differences between the two positions.

While I’ve been building startups for over a decade, I got my start working for Microsoft. I know many of you may be contemplating your next career move, so I thought I could draw from those experiences to shed some light on the role and responsibilities of a corporate CTO.

For those of you looking for startup-related content, here are some of my articles on building a startup:

A few tips on how to survive as a B2B SaaS Startup

Raising Capital: My Method of Breaking a Pesky Catch-22

How To Find A Co-Founder For Your Startup

What I (A Startup CTO) Look For In A Non-Technical Cofounder

What is a CTO?

DEFINITIONA Chief Technology Officer (CTO) is a C-level executive who brings deep technical knowledge and business expertise to keep an organization ahead of the curve. CTOs deal with and cater to external parties: customers/users, investors, and vendors. 

A CTO is not the head of IT operations

CTOs do not manage the day-to-day technical operations of a company, nor do they oversee the internal technological infrastructure of the company. Streamlining processes and providing technology solutions to employees, for example, are within the CIO’s purview, not the CTO’s.

The CTO ‘faces’ outwards (for the most part). This means they are responsible for researching and developing new products/services that will boost revenue, increase sales opportunities, and expand the brand. They educate themselves on the technology landscape (trends, innovations, updates) and how it applies to the company’s current and future plans.    

A CTO is a student of technology

All throughout secondary and tertiary education, we hear about learning how to learn. In other words, schools (ideally) teach us critical thinking skills. The capacity to research, analyze, and critique arguments/information often makes a great student, as well as a great CTO.   

Technology evolves and transforms by the day. Innovations are made, and if they stick, soon become industry norms. CTOs study these emerging technologies, working out how these innovations can be used to create cutting edge, marketable products/services. 

However, a CTO should not restrict their ‘studies’ to emerging technologies alone. Existing technologies are receiving updates by the day. Furthermore, there are many instances where tried and true technology can better suit the corporation’s goals or needs. 

A CTO constantly studies to deepen their understanding of the past, present, and future of technology, and how—most importantly—that can be aligned with the future of the company.   

NOTEOperations will likely suffer if a company’s CTO stubbornly tries to implement the newest technology all the time. The lack of robust customer support and sizable developer pool, for example, can hurt rather than help the business.

A CTO is a visionary executive

A lot rests on the CTO’s shoulders. They collaborate with the rest of the C-suite to develop the business’s vision and direction. The CTO, in particular, will be the C-level executive who knows how technology can and will affect the future of the organization. In tech companies especially, the CTO is all the more important because the products/services they develop generate the lion share of the revenue.

Again, the CTO needs to be a student of technology. 

 Three months, one year, two years, the CTO is always keeping an eye trained on the horizon. Without knowledge of technology trends, developments, and even projections, the CTO won’t be able to create the products/services that help build the future of the company, right now. 

A CTO is an evangelist 

The CTO, with their business acumen and technological expertise, is uniquely qualified to communicate the value of the company’s products and services. 

Just think it about it. CTOs (with the help of their engineering team and C-suite):

  1. Research the technology
  2. Figure out how to the technology can be uniquely and best used in the company’s new products/services
  3. Lead the development of said products/services
  4. Devise the marketing strategy 

That’s why CTOs often serve as the ‘face’ of the company, openly engaging with customers, investors, vendors, and partners. To deliver products/services that bring great returns, they need to first figure out what people want. This takes being out in the field, seeing what’s generating a buzz with the public. 

Conclusion

The integration of technology in all industries makes the CTO more and more vital to the long term viability of businesses. They have a difficult job preparing companies for the future, trying to keep pace with the tech world’s warp-speed. 

Corporate CTOs will have the luxury (perhaps curse) of a big budget and large teams. Managing large sums of money and a big global team is a challenge, but you won’t have to worry about budgets every day as a startup CTO does. 

For articles on topics that interest me, look here:

↪  Five Seattle Startups I think you should know about 

A Look At How Blockchain Companies Are Disrupting Norms 

A Look At The Techstars Seed Accelerator Program

I’d love to hear from you.

What do you think? Have any insight to share on the role of the corporate CTOs?

Since you’re here, I’m looking to partner with serious entrepreneurs who have bold ideas and realistic plans.

First-time founders, I know, find it especially hard to avoid all the pitfalls of building a business from the ground up.  My extensive experience as a startup CTO and technical co-founder has given me a lot of wisdom I’d like to offer to you and your startup. From bootstrapping to scaling, I’ve done it all—multiple times over. 

If you think you’ve got a game-changing idea, please get in touch!

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