What Does a CTO Do?

Technology

Whatever the business' purpose and objectives, a CTO is primarily the owner of its Technology, whether software or hardware, and is the creator of its Technology Vision, and cheerleader of its technical talent.

Leadership

As the most senior technologist, the CTO is the technology team's Leader, and is responsible for attracting, recruiting and retaining the top technical talent, and providing them with the best processes and infrastructure.

Business

While their key focus is on technology, the CTO is primarily a Business Executive, and carries responsibility for the success of the business and its objectives alongside other heads of department.

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A CTO is a Translator

The primary responsibility of the CTO at any stage of business is to translate business needs to technology strategy, and ensure that technology serves business best.

The CTO's Duties

A CTO is responsible for more than just code - explore their duties and focuses below

  • Software

    Development & Platform

    The CTO chooses the technology to be used in developing the organisations products, whether or not to use Open Source platforms (eg PHP, Python, Ruby) or proprietary systems such as Microsoft .Net.


    Software Architecture

    Products must be designed in such a way as to make them easily maintainable and scalable, while ensuring quality standards are met. Modern approaches include microservices, SOA and multi-layer architectures.


    Databases

    The performance and reliability of products is commonly a factor of the design of its data entities, and the database engines chosen. Databases must be scalable and performant, and enable the business to make strategic decisions through later analysis.


    Build vs Buy

    The decision whether to build completely bespoke software or use turn-key frameworks can have wide-scale impact throughout the life of a business, and these decisions commonly come near its inception.


    Security

    Approaches to software development and infrastructure design must factor the security of data within the systems, as well as governance questions over access and data storage locations.


    Innovation

    To ensure competitive advantage, the CTO must be aware of new developments and frameworks, and capable of determining their suitability for the business.


  • Culture

    Resource Planning & Hiring

    Attracting technical talent to the business is crucial to its success, and defining the right mix of roles and experience, as well as team sizes, falls under a CTO's duties.


    Retention

    Staff churn can cost a business greatly in lost domain knowledge and recruitment costs, so the CTO must ensure the business has a culture of individual growth and well-being alongside productivity.


    Training & Development

    Setting objectives for continuous improvement for both products and people, the CTO drives the upward trajectory of talent within the team, adding value to the business through improved skills and knowledge.


    Happiness

    Through crafting a culture that factors personal well-being, the CTO can actively improve the working and personal lives of team members, which helps with retention and the team's external reputation.


    Diversity

    By purposefully opening the team to diverse genders, cultures and races, the CTO can help ensure a wider range of experience and approach within the team.


    Stakeholder Management

    Carefully planning the team's interactions with external stakeholders and customers, the CTO is responsible for ensuring relations with the technology team are productive and comfortable.


  • Operations

    Process & Project Management

    By working with teams to implement and iterate on workload management and development methodologies such as Scrum, Kanban and XP, the CTO can improve transparency and predictability.


    Infrastructure & Hosting

    The design and selection of hosting infrastructures, and the selection of containerisation and public or private cloud technologies falls to the CTO along with operations team members.


    Security & Compliance

    Defining security and data privacy policies at a high level, as well as certifying the business through PCI-DSS or ISO 27001 fall to the CTO and members of the operations team.


    Budgeting

    Covering all technology areas, including staff, software licenses, hosting, certificates and so on, the CTO holds responsibility for the overall budget and its use from quarter to quarter.


What the Experts Say

  • "The CTO's primary job is to make sure the company's technology strategy serves its business strategy"

    Eric Ries
    Eric Ries
    Author, Lean Startup
  • "First and foremost, a CTO must care about and understand the business, and have the ability to shape business strategy through the lens of technology. The CTO is an executive first, a technologist second."

    Camille Fournier
    Camille Fournier
    Former CTO, Rent The Runway
  • "You cannot be a great CTO without building a great team. You can’t work wonders with a great team without a mission and a shared sense of purpose and an idea of how you will get there."

    Mark Uhrmacher
    Mark Uhrmacher
    SVP Software Engineering, Hearst Business Media
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Learn how the CTO role evolves

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