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How to Become a CTO: Poll Results with 46%...
I asked LinkedIn how they became a CTO
How does someone become a CTO?
I started a poll on LinkedIn a few days ago. With 342 votes, these results are not scientific by any means, but I find them to be interesting. We got roughly a 50%, 25%, 25% split.
I have over 20,000 connections/followers on LinkedIn, primarily engineering leaders of small to midmarket companies. So that is the primary audience of the poll.
I love that 46% of people become CTO by being one of the founders. That is also how I became a CTO. I believe the best CTOs are not only great at technology but also at product vision. That is why this blog is called The Visionary CTO.
As a company founder, you must have a strong product and company vision. So I love the fact that so many CTOs are founders. Hopefully, that means they all have a strong product vision for the company.
The best tech companies have a CTO with solid product vision, technical skills, and a passion for the company's service.
Hiring for product vision and passion for the problem is super hard.
I believe that someone can be promoted to CTO. However, I would be concerned if their job is more of a day-to-day operational role with the CTO title. You don’t want to take a VP of Engineering and just give them a CTO job title. It is a very different job.
A CTO at a software company would potentially go to board meetings, meet frequently with large customers, industry events, etc. It’s an executive role focused on the forward-looking strategy of the company.
I would be concerned that at many companies, the CTO leaves, and they just give the job title to someone else on the team, but they aren’t a CTO. I think it would be hard to make this transition.
All the past experience and responsibilities will likely drag the person down. It’s hard to relinquish those responsibilities and take on a different role in the same organization.
I say this, especially about small companies and startups. It makes more sense at larger companies with more defined succession planning and career ladders.
Small companies would rarely have two CTO-caliber people just hanging around in the org chart.
Never take your lead developer and give them the CTO job title. It’s a different role.
I think it is hard to promote from within to be a CTO. Although, I think it is just as hard to hire someone.
A CTO needs to be an expert in an industry. They need to know how to use technology to change the future of that industry. You need to hire someone with experience from that industry or who is like Ben Affleck from the movie Paycheck. He could reverse engineer anything.
When hiring a CTO, you aren’t looking for the best engineer. You are looking for someone who understands how to architect and build products.
I started my last CTO job in the home services industry about a year ago. It took me several months to get up to speed. I had to understand all the other vendors in the industry, what our company did, our customers, etc. There is a big learning curve.
But, I was able to bring 20 years of experience in architecting and building other software. If you are familiar with a certain type of software, it is easy to bring that experience across industries. For me, that is my experience in marketing and CRM software. I can apply my knowledge from two other industries to create similar solutions for home services companies.
It's possible to hire a CTO, but it is just about as hard as hiring a new CEO or any other executive for a company.
You definitely shouldn't hire the smartest coder you can find and give them the job title.
You need a Visionary CTO
If you are a subscriber of this blog, you know it is called the Visionary CTO for a reason. I am a fan of founders who are CTOs. I believe the CTO should be a product visionary at SaaS companies.
Based on the poll results, I love that about 50% of the CTOs were founders. That means a lot of them should be visionary CTOs.
I think it is hard to promote or hire someone to be CTO that will ever have the same vision and passion as a founder.
Many tech companies lose their innovative edge when the founders leave the company. The product vision disappears, as well as the risk-taking and tenacity of the original founders. Innovation slowly dies.
If you are the caliber of person who can be an incredible SaaS visionary CTO, you shouldn’t get hired or promoted to be CTO. You are the technical co-founder everyone is looking for. You should go start your own company.