Continuous Hipsterism

Software Engineering, Leadership, Management and more

You probably don't need a CTO

Posted at — Apr 10, 2020

Around the world, there are quite a few job offers for Chief Technology Officer (CTO), Vice-President (VP) of Engineering and other similar titles. For the sake of the argument, I won’t differentiate between these, although there are differences, even across organizations.

Albeit the high number of job offers, those roles seem to be quite difficult to fill and there seems to be a misalignment of what some companies want versus what they’re offering these candidates. There are some clear examples of this, in the job offers:

(…) and become a prestigious CTO (…)

Then, when you look at the offered salary range, it becomes clear that this looks like a growth promise written in a poor way.

Excellent understanding of web applications and technologies, especially as Ruby-on-Rails and React

This is interesting. Why would you constrain a CTO search to a certain set of technologies? It’s not like they are going to do write code, or… will they?

Cases like these were exactly what made me think during the last couple of months about what companies really need. When I’ve come to the conclusion that most of the companies want someone that can:

These requirements are understandable and they don’t look so off when you think about them. Yet, most of the time, this is something that you could expect from a Senior Engineer or a Team Lead. Sometimes, an experienced contractor or freelance could do this job in 3-6 months and then either start coaching/growing an Engineer into a Lead role or hire someone with this skill-set.

Yet, I would not link these requirements to a CTO role. A CTO, in my view, is at least one or two fly-height levels above. Their main responsibilities should include:

From defining the vision and make sure the there’s a strategy in place to create an MVP there’s a big difference. This also indicates that the CTO role makes more sense in bigger organizations.

So, my take on this is: there are way less CTO job offers than the ones announced. It’s OK to not need a CTO and it’s OK that your company doesn’t even need one. If what you’re offering - salary and expectations - is in a Senior Engineer range, then it’s likely that you don’t need a CTO.

If in a small company, the “Lead Engineer” depends on the CEO, this is fine. This is more transparent than to promote a role that the company doesn’t have or need at the moment. It will help to avoid false hopes for candidates and it will help recruiters to better target them. At the end of the day, it’s not relevant if a company has a CTO or not. What matters is to make it work and to ship a product that people need/want to buy. Let’s free ourselves of the CTO role cargo-cult!