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What makes a good CTO?

Ocean Man

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I'm a developer at a startup (Not necessarily a startup anymore we're pretty solid now.) and it's looking more likely than not that I'll be the CTO in the near future.

I'd like to hear from others, preferably those who've been CTOs themselves... what makes a good CTO. Suggestions on what I should learn or do to better prepare me for this role? Advice really.

Thank you.
 

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JScott

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Prepare to shift your thinking from tactical to strategic. You're no longer responsible for the day-to-day issues related to the product/technology, you're now responsible for the long-term strategic success of the product.

Personally, I know a lot of great developers/engineers who would make horrendously bad CTOs, as they don't have strong management skills, they don't have vision, they don't have the ability to lead and they don't have the ability to delegate the tactical work and decisions.

On the other hand, I know lots of potentially great CTOs who would make horrendously bad developers/engineers (I'd put myself in this category) -- and that's okay. You don't need to be a good developer/engineer to be a good CTO.

Sadly, in my experience, if you love being a developer, there's a good chance you'll hate being a CTO (or you'll be a really bad CTO).

From an analogy perspective, think of it as a chef being promoted to restaurant manager -- you're going from spending all of your time in the kitchen dealing with food to spending all of your time out of the kitchen dealing with people -- if you spent your life wanting to be a chef, this may not be a great "promotion" for you. But, if you were only a chef because you were looking for a way to break into the restaurant business, this could be a great opportunity.
 
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Ocean Man

Ocean Man

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Prepare to shift your thinking from tactical to strategic. You're no longer responsible for the day-to-day issues related to the product/technology, you're now responsible for the long-term strategic success of the product.

Personally, I know a lot of great developers/engineers who would make horrendously bad CTOs, as they don't have strong management skills, they don't have vision, they don't have the ability to lead and they don't have the ability to delegate the tactical work and decisions.

On the other hand, I know lots of potentially great CTOs who would make horrendously bad developers/engineers (I'd put myself in this category) -- and that's okay. You don't need to be a good developer/engineer to be a good CTO.

Sadly, in my experience, if you love being a developer, there's a good chance you'll hate being a CTO (or you'll be a really bad CTO).

From an analogy perspective, think of it as a chef being promoted to restaurant manager -- you're going from spending all of your time in the kitchen dealing with food to spending all of your time out of the kitchen dealing with people -- if you spent your life wanting to be a chef, this may not be a great "promotion" for you. But, if you were only a chef because you were looking for a way to break into the restaurant business, this could be a great opportunity.
Thank you for this insight, Scott.

I do enjoy development, but I don't love development, actually, I'm working on starting a business right now. And I find the process of building and working on the business itself a lot more enjoyable than developing. I feel like I'd like the CTO role more than the developer's role, as I naturally gravitate towards management, building culture, business, and other aspects of being a businessman.

And aside from my own side work. I do notice that at work, I am unintentionally being funneled into more management, delegation, etc...
 

Em7

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I'd recommend reading the book "High Output Management" by Intel's former CEO, you're headed for management, coming from being a developer to a manager can be a tough step as they are completely different games and you're about to tackle completely new challenges, and going forward stack overflow won't be your saviour.

Good luck buddy
 

softwareRules

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The shift is from strategic to tactical, as Scott pointed out. You're going to be thinking more about the business and aligning all tasks toward the business goals. One crucial difference between "ok" management and great managers and CTOs is that they take control of their schedule and schedule 1-on-1s with their direct reports or schedule whatever meetings are necessary to get alignment and to get the job done.

You should understand as much of the business as possible, understand your current team's strengths & weaknesses, and create a roadmap for the next 6 months and the next year. You basically want a pipeline of tasks for you direct reports and your department that will make more money or save some money. Also be aware of your political standing; this is the biggest difference between development and management work. You have to be able to control the narrative and paint yourself and your team and the priorities that align with business goals in a positive light.

You should check out the book Developer Hegemony
 

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