Making the transition from technical employee to CTO is notoriously challenging. Many newbies find the process of moving from technologist to business executive extremely stressful. If you’re struggling in, or just moving into, your first CTO role, we’ve sourced some invaluable tips to give you the best chance of success:
Pay attention to the ‘C’ as well as the ‘T’
This won’t be the case for everyone of course, but for the high proportion of CTOs who’ve come from purely technical backgrounds, getting to grips with the business side of the role can be more difficult than expected. A core skill that new CTOs need to cultivate is to be able to communicate complex technical ideas in a simple way to a less specialised business audience, verbally and in presentations. They also need to thoroughly understand how the core business operates in order to appreciate which new technology solutions might genuinely be of help.
All too often, the CTO’s role is still shrouded in mystery. Expectations can differ hugely from one company to the next, leading to confusion, frustration and a CTO who feels undervalued or at sea. Don’t be afraid to ask for a chat with the CEO and other senior players to really define what your responsibilities are if you’re unsure. You want to get the balance between strategy, technology design, development and system maintenance right from day one.
Keep on top of industry trends
Once you’re starting to feel established in your role, it’s easy to get bogged down in company politics and existing legacy systems. The most successful CTOs, though, make sure they stay ahead of the game by keeping track of industry trends and monitoring those that could affect their company.
If you’ve progressed from a technical role, you’ll be used to handling every small problem yourself. A CTO has a much larger task that requires a shift in mindset – to make other people solve problems more quickly and to a high standard. It’s very likely you’ll be responsible for a number of teams working on a diverse range of projects, something that can prove quite the challenge if you’re the hands-on type.
Don’t get seduced by buzz
As a new CTO, it’s worth regularly reminding yourself that lots of technologies start out seeming cutting edge and attracting heavy press attention, only to quickly fall out of favour. Beware of getting stuck with fly by night technologies on a legacy system in an effort to innovate. Instead, select only those that have proven their worth, at least until your judgement is honed by more experience.