Discover more from Engineering Leadership
What does a CTO do
The role of the CTO heavily depends on which stage currently the company is in.
A lot of people may be thinking of what exactly does a CTO do? Well, there is not one universal answer to that. What the CTO is doing heavily depends on the business and the size of the organization.
Also, every situation is different. Finding out what brings the most value to the business → that’s what the CTO should be focusing on.
Why is a CTO important for a company?
The CTO is responsible for everything technical. They are the go-to person if something breaks or something is not working as it should be. CTO is also a strategist and visionary, which means that they are here to create a great technical strategy that is aligned with the business. You can read more about how to develop a great tech strategy here.
What’s also important to note is that they need to build a great team around them. Only great teams build great software, therefore building a great team is one of the most important things a CTO can do.
And there are so many other things like culture, hiring, security and all kinds of different processes. They should be able to create a great engineering organization where people can thrive. You can read how to do that in this article: How to create a great engineering organization where people can thrive (paid article).
The importance of the business mindset of CTOs
I like to say that a CTO is a business role. Even though a CTO is responsible for everything technical, they should have a good understanding of the business. The alignment between business and tech is crucial.
The alignment is very important and can either break or make a business. Imagine building something that is not going to be expected by the rest of the business or customers. It can mean a lot of wasted resources and can quite quickly create silos in the company. This means that the departments don’t work together anymore but just for their benefit.
When both business and tech are aligned, it can truly bring a LOT of benefits. This aligns all the departments to move together to achieve goals and there can be a lot of other benefits like automation and innovation. You can read more about the importance of aligning business and tech here (paid article).
The role of the CTO depends on which stage currently the company is in
One of the most important things you can do as a CTO of the company is to acknowledge what is the best thing you should be focusing on.
It's important to adapt to the needs of the company and the business and ensure you are spending your time correctly. The role of the CTO heavily depends on which stage currently the company is in.
Small company (pre product-market fit)
The CTO needs to be a tech lead/team lead and develop the MVP together with the team. How much individual contribution a CTO does depends on the size of the team. Normally, the MVP is built with as few people as possible, but the bigger the team, the more coaching and mentoring the CTO needs to do.
Overall strategy and business mindset, combined with technical skills are important in this stage.
Mid-size company (after product-market fit)
CTO needs to be a good manager and build out the teams to support the growth and business accolades. The number one focus is to build a great engineering organization and teams that are going to consistently provide business value. Therefore the focus is on hiring, processes and team mentality.
The CTO should not be doing any individual contribution, but they should still have a good sense of WHAT and HOW it’s being done. The technical details need to be understandable and they should be aligned with the business. But the development should be left to the teams.
I’ve seen CTOs having a hard time letting go of the details and that’s a huge problem. They should focus on how to make others around them better + make sure that the overall organization is on point and not focusing on the fine details. This is one of the hardest and the most crucial things that first-time CTOs need to do.
Strategy and the vision combined with building out the teams and a great organization - this should be the number one focus. There is a big difference if you work ON your organization or if you work IN your organization. The majority of the time you should work ON your organization.
CTO is purely a strategic and business role. Aligning technology with the business vision is what CTOs in this stage should be focusing on the most. It becomes critical to acknowledge the business opportunities and align them with technical efforts. The thinking should shift a lot more to the future than the present.
There should already be great processes in place and you have hired a few VPs of Engineering - they should be handling the heavy lifting of day-to-day processes. As a CTO you should be focusing on bringing in the right people instead of you doing operational changes yourself.
You become the face of the company on the technology side, you can contribute to the success by helping with promoting the products. This can be done by giving talks and presentations on events or hosting webinars.
My responsibilities and focus as a CTO
We at Zorion are a young Fintech startup currently in the process of finding product-market fit. We are building a mobile application that will enable users to invest in pre-IPO companies. We are a small company of 15~ people and we will be launching our product early next year.
One of the most important responsibilities for me is to prepare everything for the launch. Make sure that we have all of the expected functionalities working correctly and that we will be able to successfully onboard users and offer them the desired experience. Here is what I focus on the most:
good processes in place (Read more about the process that works for us here: The software development process that works (paid article)),
great teamwork from the whole team,
a stable codebase and architecture that can be scaled once we are growing,
transparency on deliverables and aligning expectations from the rest of the business.
My daily responsibilities are heavily aligned with making sure we are going to achieve these things.
I consider myself a good generalist that can if needed go into details of a certain part. Being a generalist, I am automatically looking to have experts on my team.
We have experts in React Native, QA, Hasura + Python, Design, PM and Marketing. So what I do is I take a look at the skill set of my team and I fill the gaps needed. I am looking for ways to help the business, the whole organization and the team the most.
You can find what structure I have set up for my team here: How does a great software development team structure look like (paid article).
So what I currently do: I am doing a mix of being a manager and an engineer. I am aligning everything that we are doing with the business, simplifying and aligning goals for us and managing expectations + facilitating and leading the meetings.
And at the same time, I am working on different projects, like building the administration application that our operational team will use, improving the SEO of the website, doing performance optimizations, code reviews, etc.
My current split is around 60 (managerial time) and 40 (maker time). As the team is growing and when we will have multiple teams, the split will adjust as well.
Every situation is different, therefore always have your eyes wide open and try to figure out what is going to be most impactful to the business.
This advice is not just for CTOs, but for everyone. We should all be striving towards finding what provides the biggest impact and focus on delivering that.
We are not finished for this week yet!
We have a special offer from Jordan, the Author of, just for the readers of Engineering Leadership.
Jordan has launched an online cohort based course: Mid-level to Senior for high-growth engineers.
In the course he’ll share 5 key areas you need to learn in order to get to the senior level.
As a reader, you are getting 25% discount. Click “I want this!” below. The discount code ENGLEADERSHIP is already applied for you!
Liked this article? Make sure to 💙 click the like button.
Feedback or addition? Make sure to 💬 comment.
Know someone that would find this helpful? Make sure to 🔁 share this post.
Get in touch
If you wish to make a request on particular topic you would like to read, you can send me an email to email@example.com.
This newsletter is funded by paid subscriptions from readers like yourself.
If you aren’t already, consider becoming a paid subscriber to receive the full experience!
You are more than welcome to find whatever interests you here and try it out in your particular case. Let me know how it went! Topics are normally about leadership, management, all things engineering related, developing scalable products, building teams etc.