A Mini Guide to Being a CTO or Head of Technology

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Michel Krieger, Werner Hans Peter Vogels, Gerri Martin-Flickinger, and Jane Gilmour.

These are the Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) of some of the biggest brands in the world - Instagram, Amazon, Starbucks and Coca-Cola. They play an invaluable role in ensuring these companies are digitally transformed, and ahead of the tech trends. If you aspire to see your startup or scaleup thrive, and impact the world in the same way, it's time to put the spotlight on your CTO (and if you don’t have one yet, appoint one quickly). 

Why a CTO is important in every business 

In the C-suite, the CTO - also known as the Head of Technology - has become a key executive in a global environment that demands businesses make digital transformation one of their highest strategic priorities.

Whenever your favourite brands make some sort of technologically innovative breakthrough with their product or service, you’ll find that oftentimes, a CTO is spearheading that initiative.

Today’s digital business climate demands that almost every company is a tech company. Success is largely measured by how quickly a company can adapt to new tech trends; manage cyberattacks and system malfunctions; and become a trendsetter in the digital space. 

A CTOs role is to consider all the tech requirements, opportunities and disruptions that a business might face and then implement the needed strategies and processes to either drive the company towards success or give the company a competitive advantage.

This means that CTOs should be highly adaptable to change; be constantly learning about and keeping their eye on new technological trends; and be strategic decision-makers, always ready with a game plan. 

Responsibilities in the role of a CTO

As technology evolves, so does the role of a CTO. Put simply, they are the main person in charge of pioneering and overseeing technological innovation within a company. But their specific responsibilities may differ depending on various factors, including the size of the company. Let’s take a look at what the responsibilities of a CTO generally are in a startup or scaleup. 

1) Oversee the technical design and direction

In a small startup, the founder may serve as the CTO, and in larger companies, the CTO would oversee a number of tech teams. Either way, the CTO will be responsible for making strategic decisions around the development of the platform; developing a plan for how systems or programs can evolve in their technical design; and innovating the design of a product's architecture layout.

2) Focus on research and development 

With the constant evolution of technology, CTOs of any size company need to stay up-to-date with the latest trends.

They therefore need to be invested in researching competitors, and gathering and analysing customer intelligence to inform their decisions. Their focus should be on finding innovations that can help the company operate more efficiently and effectively. 

3) Build a strong tech team

It’s crucial for a scaleup CTO to find the right people to help them execute their tech decisions, and their team will include data scientists, software engineers, and IT specialists.

The difficulty for startups is they need tech specialists who can fulfil a wide range of roles in the tech team, but many specialists tend to look for jobs where they can serve in a niche area. 

4) Implementing cybersecurity

Cyberattacks have become a huge issue in this digital climate.

Remember when Facebook, Whatsapp and Instagram were shut down for a day and society didn’t know what to do? Another responsibility of the CTO is to ensure something like this does not and cannot happen.

Cybersecurity isn’t only important from a user perspective, but also in terms of protecting company IP and the private data of employees.

The CTO will need to assess all company databases, websites, products, and digital tools, to ensure the necessary security algorithms are in place which will keep data private and encrypted. 

5) Conduct quality assurance and product testing 

Because your business is a startup, you’re unlikely to have an entire team dedicated just to quality assurance.

The CTO will need to ensure that someone is in charge of identifying any tech “bugs” in your products or services, and then the CTO will decide the best way to fix any bugs that have been identified. 

6) Product development

Many companies have found CTOs to be the perfect player to assist in innovative product development. Essentially, this would require the CTO to strategise ways technology can be used within products or services in order to improve them or make them more attractive.

To do this, a CTO will need to engage with the UX (user experience) of the product or service, and take note of any consumer trends that could influence the digital design.  

At the end of the day, the CTO is a business leader who has to manage financial budgets and constraints; an operational manager who has to navigate processes and systems; and a software engineer who has to stay on top of tech trends and pioneer innovative tech developments within the company. 

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The skills CTOs need to thrive in the role

It’s not as simple as being “technologically-gifted”. A CTO, or Head of Technology, has to wear many hats in a company - from business, to development, to operations - they need a toolbox of skills to help them be the most valuable asset in the C-suite. Here are the six skills you should hone and practice as a CTO:

People skills

You are first and foremost a leader. You will need to be able to get your team to back your innovative vision, and constantly inspire them to innovate on their own too.

You should focus on helping each individual member of your team grow in their professional capacity, your team, and creating a space where they feel they can get constructive feedback and ongoing support. 

Lifelong learning

As new tech emerges that could positively impact your company product, service or platform, and so, your role as a CTO is going to involve explaining what it is to every person in the company.

This means you need to stay ahead of the game when it comes to understanding new technologies and how they can be implemented. 

Future-focused thinking

You’ll need to have vision and be able to apply innovative and strategic thinking to develop the game plan that will bring this vision to life.

Other members of your team, such as developers, UX designers and so on, will work on the details, but it’s up to you to set that goal and ensure it’s always executed with future trends in mind.

Customer service and communication 

Whatever new tech you are trying to implement, product you are trying to create, or system you are trying to develop security for, always do so with the consumer in mind.

You can ensure you get this right by constantly communicating with your customers to find out what their needs are. 

So, will you be the next Michel Krieger, Werner Hans Peter Vogels, Gerri Martin-Flickinger, or Jane Gilmour? Don’t waste time thinking about the answer to the question and start researching what the next big tech trend will be, and how your company is going to revolutionise it.

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