The Evolving Role of the Chief Technology Officer: A Skills Assessment

You’ve got the CTO or Chief Technology Officer job, but now it seems too daunting. How can you combat this and take action? Find out right now…

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So you’re a CTO now. Congrats! But, you feel like you’re in over your head. So many skills you’ve got to have, so many things you need to know. It seems like a never-ending list! Help! Good thing we’ve gathered a few frequently asked questions by new-ish CTOs who want to fight their imposter syndrome and become a better CTO. Enjoy the read!

No matter where you work as a CTO, in a massive multinational or a small startup, your role means working in a rapidly-changing environment by default. New technologies, code languages and tools are being introduced at a breakneck pace. A pace that’s only going to speed up rather than fade away. It’s up to you to figure out what’s a safe bet. Add to this the more strategic role a CTO must play within management (on top of explaining all this new tech) and you’re sometimes right to feel a little bit overwhelmed.

But that’s the job you chose. So it’s up to you to make sure you find the best strategy to rapidly learn about new tech, find out if it’s useful for both the tech and business side of the company, and break said tech down to explain it to the board or other leading stakeholders. On the other hand, you must be able to set out a guiding vision for your specialists too. So you must stay firm footed in your tech roots.

The CEO answers to the shareholders and is the figurehead of the company. They’ve got loads on their plate. So good CEOs expect their CTO to be their guiding light when it comes to everything tech. It’s not up to them to judge whether betting on a public or private cloud for their SaaS-ERP is the way to go.

CEO and CTO
CEO and CTO

The CTO has to explain the pros and cons, as well as have an informed opinion about a particular preference and how it will impact the business. Done well, the CEO (and rest of the board) only have to say yes or no after buying in (or not) on the decision.

You could joke the CTO is the Chief Tech Oracle for the rest of the board. But it’s essential to do nonetheless. If you can’t explain it, you don’t know it. And trust is a significant factor. It’s the same for those developers underneath you. Some of their specialist skills are probably way beyond what you understand. Mutual trust bridges this gap. So beware, nowadays, the minute the CEO’s trust in the CTO’s knowledge disappears, that’s the minute you can start looking for another company to work.

It depends. The bigger the company, the less likely you need to dabble in code. In a startup, it can be necessary to actively help out your team, but as scenarios go, it’s an outlier. Having said that, you still need to keep up to date on the latest practices. If that means actively coding for you, sure. Everybody learns differently.

CTO coding
CTO coding

It might raise some eyebrows with your team, though. Because in the end, a CTO is a leader. You’re managing a team of demanding developers who probably know way more than you about their expertise. And their skills are in high demand too, so you can’t mess up the people management side of the business by micromanaging them, or they’ll jump ship.

On top of this, as we mentioned before, you’ll need to explain everything tech-related to a board that usually looks at your field like it’s sheer wizardry. So between keeping up with the latest tech and working on your people management and business skills, you’ll probably be too busy to justify writing code.

As a leader, CTOs must actively manage their team and find a way to explain everything tech-related to the board or other leading stakeholders. Nowadays, you are expected to know just as much about the business side as the tech side. So no pressure.

Being a people manager is hard, though. Especially if those underneath you dwarf your knowledge about a particular subject. But if there’s mutual trust, this divide can be bridged. It does mean that you usually need to check your ego at the door as you’re mainly a manager for them. Not the oracle the board often takes you for.

Being up there on the board, you must also get a proper budget for your side of the organisation. Otherwise, you can’t hire new talent or get those tools implemented to ensure the company’s competitiveness going forward. That means your networking and negotiation skills must be on par with your peers in marketing and sales.

This is as easy to answer for yourself as it’s hard to answer for us. Meaning, you can only become a better CTO if you want to be a better CTO in the first place. If you do, you probably know why. And this why is what counts.

Do you want to grow into a CEO position, for example? Or do you want to switch industries? Or spice up your resume to gain that CTO seat at that big corporation you’re after right now?

All valid reasons. Knowing this, you might also be aware of what’s lacking in your current toolbox. That may mean following leadership training, diving into the trends and challenges within that particular industry, following additional management training, or getting yourself intimately familiar with the business side of the organisation.

There are plenty of ways you can achieve this. Be it by following courses, masters, webinars or reading books, blogs and trade publications. In the end, only your resolve matters. The tools to become better at anything are out there waiting for you to use them.

How can I learn and hone new technologies rapidly and efficiently?

As we mentioned before, people have different learning habits. Some like to read. Some like to watch videos. Some like to listen. Some prefer online courses, some prefer in-person training, others a mix of the two. Some prefer a practical way of learning on the job, others a theoretical approach.

So it’s all about knowing your learning habits well and coming up with a strategy to fit learning new technologies into your schedule. Now, most would say their schedule is busy, but there’s a difference between being productive and busy.

If you find yourself mostly writing and answering emails, being in meetings and discussing the latest crisis with somebody on social media, you might want to check how productive you are.

And indeed, you can learn to be productive and to stop checking in on your email every five minutes or saying yes to every meeting out there.

This ties into your favourite learning methods as nowadays almost anything is taught in just about every type of media or course, whether online or offline. Online courses, in particular, saw a significant surge over the last few years. So there’s a wide variety of courses to choose from on a wide variety of subjects in just about every budget range out there.

Studying books and blogs
Studying books and blogs

If you’re the bookish type, there’s no shortage of ebooks and physical books on just about every relevant topic imaginable. Check out sites like Amazon or other online bookshops.

When it comes to blogs, you’ve got the thousands of them to choose from, and in just about any category or language for that matter. Do we have to mention social media? You can follow the people you look up to or can learn from on, say, Twitter or LinkedIn for tips and advice.

Define “best”. We’re sure everybody has their personal favourites when it comes to people they admire. So it’s hard just to jot down a few well-known CTOs and pretend that’s the be-all and end-all list for you to follow. That’s not how it works.

Instead, go online and find CTOs you admire for whatever reason and follow them. Why not try contacting them?Maybe they would be up for a mentorship type of arrangement. In any case, there’s plenty of ways you can find a role model to learn from nowadays.

You don’t until you do. How cryptic! But that’s just how it is. If you set out on a particular path towards becoming a better CTO, or maybe one at a bigger company, you’ll probably know if the steps you take are meaningful or not. They deliver specific results, after which you can see for yourself if they work or not. There’s no single way to become a CTO or a better one. So there’s no roadmap we can give you.

What’s most important is that you take action. You’re not content with the way things are now. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be reading this. By taking action, you’re taking control of the situation. You may not know for certain if you’ll become that CTO you aspire to be, but if not, other opportunities may open up for you. You just don’t know. But that’s the beauty of life.

As a CTO, you should probably know how to answer this. However, it’s all about choosing the right technology for the right job. Nowadays, there are plenty of tools and platforms for just about any industry or particular task.

So it’s all about gunning for the most future-proof tech stack that fits your industry, company size and strategy, as well as what you can get within your budget. That sounds logical because it is. There’s no magic bullet here. It’s just about putting in enough hours of research to select the right stack that suits your company.

By getting your time management and productivity in order. This allows you to make time to follow your favourite CTOs, read relevant books or blogs and take suitable (online) courses or webinars.

We cannot stress enough that you have to make time for this. There’s loads of information to find on forming habits. So make sure to read up on this. If you make this effort, you’ll feel better about yourself in the process.

Remember that a lot of people hardly read up on new trends, apart from some leading publication, blog or guru everybody reads anyway. So this is your opportunity to get a leg up on the rest.

In conclusion, we can say it’s quite easy to get a grasp on the evolving role of a CTO. It’s all about you. If you put in the effort, you can become the CTO you aspire to be. Taking action will lead to opportunities you can’t even dream of right now. Maybe you’ll even find out you want to become something else altogether.

A few realities will always be there, like the ever-changing technology landscape or the ever-changing role of the CTO. Even what a CEO expects from you. It’s a matter of keeping up with the latest trends and training yourself in the skills you need, like the newest tech but also people management and business skills to meet today’s challenges head-on. Those things matter in the process of becoming a better CTO.

The way you learn new skills or catch up on the latest trends can be done in a variety of ways by reading books, blogs, taking courses, following experts on social media and so on.

All this will help you navigate the ever-changing world we live in right now. How you’ll do depends on you and your stamina when it comes to changing your prospects.

You can read the orginal version of this article at Codemotion.com, where you will find more related contents. https://www.codemotion.com/magazine/dev-hub/cto/cto-skills-assessment/

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