“With great power comes great responsibility”, the French philosopher Voltaire had said, as did Uncle Ben of Peter Parker in the movie Spiderman. As a chief technology officer (CTO), you surely aspire to this credo.
With all-pervasive software transforming business models, products, services and processes across industries, the role and stature of CTOs like you are only going to grow. And, that brings with it its own set of challenges and imperatives. You will not only have to continuously pick up new skills–both functional and business–but also build and retain a team of top-quality technology professionals who can deliver great products.
Needless to say, you must, first and foremost, demonstrate an in-depth understanding of the domain, in terms of how different architectures, technology stacks, tools and products come together. This technical expertise should be based on your hands-on experience in performing various roles throughout the product development cycle.
In this blog, we will discuss the top 8 qualities you need to have in order to stand out among the crowd, and become a truly great CTO. Let’s get started.
1. Strong Technological Expertise
A great copywriter is conversant with words, an artist possesses an exceptional understanding of his craft. Likewise, a Chief Technology Officer must have an exemplary technical skillset. As a CTO, you must have accumulated extensive technical experience by working on various levels of development and facing different kinds of challenges. You should be well-versed in major programming languages-their applications, pros and cons. A CTO without a strong technical background may need to rely on his team members or consultants for counsel. As a result, he may end up authorizing decisions that require reconsideration, e.g., rebuilding a software solution. Only through robust technical know-how can you steer an organization in the right direction and avoid common pitfalls.
2. Conversant With Latest Trends
Technology is evolving at a breakneck speed, and a CTO is expected to keep pace with this dynamic activity. You need to be curious about every new development in your domain. As a CTO, you should have exceptional technological insight, which means you should be able to identify which tool, programming language, or development methodology is worth checking out.
By staying up-to-date with the latest trends, you can predict where you can take your business in the next couple of years and what technologies can help you accomplish the same. This way, you can make your organization more competitive and scalable.
3. Great Communication Skills
A CTO should be able to communicate effortlessly with both technical and non-technical employees within the organization. As a Chief Technology Officer, you have to connect regularly with other C-level executives as well as clients. You should be able to convey to these stakeholders how a technical choice may affect business goals.
Likewise, you should be able to communicate to developers how your business goals will drive technical decisions. When a CTO can effectively translate between technical and non-technical spheres, he can ensure that his project is moving in the intended direction.
4. Hiring the Right People
Skill shortage is a serious challenge within IT organizations. As skilled candidates are hard to find, it is common to see CTOs participating in the hiring process. A CTO should, therefore, be capable of assessing who would be a good fit for their organization and company culture.
You should have the skill to attract, retain, and inspire talented people in your organization. You should be able to recognize talent and put together a team of adequately skilled engineers. A CTO adept at hiring the right people would hunt for some highly sought-after skills such as cultural fit, reliability, willingness to learn, etc., as much as technical expertise. By doing so, they would ensure that the person they hire works in close coordination with other team members.
5. Large Network of Industry Professionals
No executive can be expected to know everything. The knack for building great relations with skilled professionals can stand a CTO in good stead, regardless of the domain they operate in. CTOs with a good network can easily fill the gaps in their knowledge.
For instance, if your organization needs a developer skilled in a particular skillset (e.g., iOS programming), you may get the job done quickly without the hassle of hiring a full-time resource if you have an established network. A good CTO’s network often includes development companies, developers, and consultants whom they can turn to for guidance.
6. Team Management
Part of being an exceptional CTO is impeccable team management skills. Their team is possibly the biggest asset a CTO may have. While some teams get along well, others may have inter-personal conflicts. A CTO may have to deal with situations where one developer has issues with another developer or an employee doesn’t feel motivated enough to perform optimally.
As a Chief Technology Officer, you should know how to establish a conducive working environment that maximizes cooperation and communication among team members and helps them fulfill their objectives. You should think of your team as a system and devise ways of optimizing this system. Attributes such as empathy, openness to dialogue, and leadership skills are essential to make this happen.
Whether it is choosing a technology stack, hiring new team members, or deciding deadlines for an upcoming project, a CTO has to make a lot of short-term as well as long-term decisions on a regular basis. The ability to make quick rational decisions is the hallmark of a great leader, and a CTO is no exception. These decisions should be based on both historical evidence as well as experience.
Many times, CTOs are required to analyze a situation and offer a prompt response. If you do not respond on a timely basis under these situations, it may affect the progress of your project or your relationship with the stakeholders.
8. Strategic Mindset
A CTO must be able to focus on the big picture, not merely on individual projects. In other words, he should not miss the forest for the trees. A CTO is expected to be a visionary who can see where the company is heading toward and what can be done to get it there.
As a CTO, you would have to spend a lot of time studying different technologies and business models. You would have to analyze the competitors and devise a strategy on how your company can accomplish its goals and outpace the competition. To lead the marketplace, an organization must have disruptive ideas, many of which come from the technical team with the CTO in charge. A great CTO would strive to build a culture of collaboration and encourage sharing of ideas.
The present and future belong to those who can intelligently and effectively harness technology for superior differentiation in a cutthroat marketplace. If you are aiming to be the agent of change in your organization, then acquiring and honing these core skills will go a long way in helping you build mindshare and influence as CTO.