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What kind of CTO do you want to be?

Posted by johnreynolds on February 14, 2006 at 6:10 PM PST

When I was growing up back in the 60's, I wanted to be a CTO. Yup, during the excitement following Kennedy's pledge to put a CTO on the moon by the end of the decade, and with TV shows like "CTO Trek" and movies like "2001, a CTO Odyssey", all I could think about was how great it would be to be a CTO...
Of course I am kidding, I never even heard the term CTO until sometime in the 90's.

Recently I participated in some discussions on how to grow a management team, and I was pointed to an article by Roger Smith: "Maximizing the CTO's Contribution to Innovation and Growth",

This article is great food for thought, because it discusses what a CTO is, and it points out that there are at least five distinctly different types of CTO. The article is specifically about CTOs, but you can easily see similar characteristics in your managers, team leads and project leads.

As I read through the article, I found myself wondering which type of CTO I would be...

The first category is Genius:

“The Genius CTO is usually skilled at creating something new, possessing vision and confidence, and exploiting a unique opportunity”.

That sounds pretty good, but I’m not a genius.

The second category is Administrator:

The Administrator CTO “must defend the organization’s budgets from overspending on technology products, services, and project labor.”

Oh dear, I do so love shiny new toys… this role might be a stretch for me.

The third category is Director:

The Director CTO “is willing to give up direct hands-on research in order to create an environment in which others are enabled to do outstanding and valuable work.”

Promising… that sounds like the role I filled at my last start up. A pity it went belly up.

The fourth category is Executive:

The Executive CTO is used “to assist in guiding strategic decisions and managing the innovation process. The Executive CTO is a businessperson who measures innovation, research, and experimentation by the contribution it makes the company’s revenues and future competitive advantage.”

That’s very attractive to me, but of course it depends on the business. I am a Technologist, so unless the business involves technology, I probably don’t fit this role.

The fifth category is Advocate:

The Advocate CTO “is generally focused on the customer’s experience of and interfaces with the company…. These CTOs do not usually direct the creation of technology, but rather select and combine the best products for their specific business capabilities.”

Having started my programming life as a User Experience guy, and with my current focus on business processes, I might do a fairly good job as this kind of CTO.

For a moment, aspire to be a CTO. Which type of CTO do you think you’d be?

Are you doing the right things in your career to prepare you for the role? Even if you are sure that you will always want to be a programmer (and you are never too old to be a programmer), it is always a good idea to have options.

Returning to your current role; which type of CTO would you rather work for? Which of these guys (or gals) is going to make your job more fulfilling? We can’t always pick our boss, but understanding the role your boss really plays can be a big help in dealing with them.

(Cross posted at The Thoughtful Programmer)

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