Why is it so difficult to hire the right CTO?


A conversation I often find myself in with founders and leaders is about hiring a CTO. Sometimes they already know that’s what they need and the difficulty is how to find one, sometimes they are facing technology challenges and the decision is about whether a CTO will help.

How does this come about? This conversation is often triggered by a deterioration in the performance of the technology team and how well they are coping with the challenges of serving the needs of the business.

The first problem is that unlike CFO or CMO there is less common understanding of what a CTO does. This leads to a reflexive decision of “We need a CTO.” Sometimes you do, but sometimes you’d be better off hiring a VP Engineering / Head of Development (often a senior engineer who has the skill and experience to guide a team in delivering a large or complex product) instead.

The first challenge here is to understand whether the underlying problem is tactical (how to deliver) vs strategic (why to deliver). That latter is about technology choices and their consequences for the business as a whole.

So, are you confident that you are delivering the right product but you have a problem getting the team to work effectively in building it? If so, then you might be better off looking for (or promoting to) a Head of Development.

Or are you running into issues about whether the kind of product you are building is really what the organisation needs? If so, then you probably need a CTO.

If the answer is both… give me a call!

The second big problem is success.

Success means growth. Success means bigger, better, faster. All of which means more and more development until even a good technical co-founder or development lead can find themselves overwhelmed. 

Sooner or later you're going to face one or more of the following:

1. The team grows large enough to require management as well as leadership

2. Technical decisions rise above how to implement a given feature and become about decisions on allocating resources and ROI of different features

These choices require a different perspective to that of an engineer. Especially when these choices start to have serious impact upon, and consequences for, other parts of the business and we enter the realm of politics.

So, your challenge now is that you’re looking for Machiavelli… who also understands Javascript. Such people are not easy to find!

Does this all sounds familiar? Are you looking for some guidance in your CTO search? Over the coming weeks I will be sharing a ’30-minute Guide to Hiring a CTO’. Keep an eye out. 

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Matt MowerComment