So, what is a CTO supposed to be doing all day?  I think Eric Ries, in the above post, sums it up pretty well.

The CTO's primary job is to make sure the company's technology strategy serves its business strategy.

So concise.  So correct.  The key phrase in that statement is "serves its business strategy".  Technology often forgets why it exists.  Why does technology exist?  It exists to serve some function.  If you work for a company, that function is for business.  And, if you are really lucky, that business is transforming the world, and culture.

He goes on to identify 5 (+1) key skills for a CTO.

  • Platform selection and technical design
  • Seeing the big picture (in graphic detail)
  • Provide options
  • Find the 80/20
  • Grow technical leaders
  • Own the development methodology
I think this is a great list of duties for a CTO.  It reads almost like a job description.  I think all technologists who aspire to be a leader in their field should find ways to improve these skills.

Below are my thoughts on some of those skills lists.

Provide options

Some technologists have a tendency just to "decide for you" and give you the "best" option, but that's dangerous. You can't have an honest dialog if one party knows all the answers.

"Some"?  I would say "most" technologists.  Usually, when a technologist says, "That's impossible."  What they really mean to say is "I don't want to do that because I don't know the technology you are talking about, and I kind of think you are an idiot, and by the way, I have this piece of code that I wrote 20 years ago that we should use, and basically, I don't care about the business, I care about Perl."  

Too many technologists only think about technology.  What good is technology if it is not meeting a business need?  Provide options.  Be a collaborator.  Collaboration is the key to honest dialog.  Collaboration builds trust.  So, get out of your cave and start collaborating.  

Find the 80/20

Once I understood what the objective of their feature was for customers, I could sometimes see a way to get 80% of the benefit for 20% of the cost.

Now, we are talking!  Everyone, all up and down the food chain, needs this skill!  

This is of ultimate importance for the CTO.  Why?  Because technology is friggin' expensive.  Because a technology project is never 100% done.  Because technology is never as easy as you think it is.  The key to "getting done" is getting 80% done.  Then, decide if doing the rest is part of the technical and business strategy.  If the CTO (or an leader for that matter) cannot grasp the 80/20 concept, costs will rise while project timelines increase.  A losing proposition indeed.

Grow technical leaders

By delegating and training, we create a corps of leaders who could step in to provide CTO-like services on demand. And by working together, we created a team whose whole was greater than the sum of its parts.

In other words, the CTO needs to mentor.  To me, this is a no-brainer.  For anyone in leadership, one of their main day to day activities should be to mentor.  ABM (Always be mentoring).  But, I am constantly amazed at how little mentoring is done.  I have found that when I mentor someone, it is always a growing experience for me.  I think I get more out of it than the mentee.  Why?  Teaching something is the best way to learn something.  Plus, you can't BS someone you work with everyday.


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