Recently my old friend Michael Fearer asked me on LinkedIn, “What you’ve seen in your experience and others as the best way to get to CTO. I’m seeing at my time is a decision to go more technical or switch to more business as I’m in both right now. I worry that if I go into business, I will get left behind on the tech side. What do you think?”
Here’s my response:
Either years of climbing up the career ladder and incrementally learning (Eng -> Eng II -> Senior -> Manager -> VP -> CTO). Or you create the opportunity for yourself on an accelerated learning path. I chose the latter when I left Microsoft to join a small startup and expedite my learning & experience.
At such a small startup, the CTO is just what I like to call the “Chief Coder”. While I have more business responsibilities, a majority of my day-to-day is still coding with my engineers.
Eventually, if we get big enough I can step away from that being my day-to-day and focus on more high-level architecture & structural decisions.
As a CTO you always need to have your pulse on the tech. You’ll never know everything because no one person can (that’s something I worried about when I started) but you should have some basic ideas of how certain technology your company is considering using will work/impact your business.
The trick there is just to have enough foresight to go learn more about that thing as soon as you know you’ll likely need to be aware of it.
CTO is a range. Everywhere from Chief Coder (coding daily) to Non-practicing Technical person (has people to code for them but is the face and mouth of the org). But regardless of where you fall, there’s a requirement to understand technical concepts, past and current, and decide which to apply to your business.
And you can’t think of it as “leaving behind the tech side”. No CTO can ever “leave behind the tech side,” because that’s your job (I can’t stress that enough)! It’s your job to be aware and make use of all the technology at your disposal to improve/grow your business.
It’s a balance of business and tech.
Hope that helps anyone struggling with this question.
Feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn with your own questions!