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When Is It Time to Hire a CTO (Chief Technology Officer)

CTO: Roles, Responsibilities and Alternatives

March 9, 2021
9 min read

With the advent of new technologies, new business needs emerge. Businesses should quickly adapt and implement new solutions to stay ahead. The reasonable use of advanced technology defines the success of most of today's companies.

Whereas a non-tech business could thrive on the outsourced IT team, greater leverage of digital tools and innovation often requires tech experts among senior executives. Management of the technical side of a business is a CTO responsibility. They help the company stay competitive and technologically sustainable.

The article will bring to light the many responsibilities of the different CTO types, give recommendations on whether your company actually requires a CTO, and what are the alternatives.

What is a Chief Technology Officer (CTO)?

First, we'll answer what does CTO stand for?

CTO is an abbreviation for Chief Technical Officer or Chief Technology Officer. Such positions <medium>relate to so-called C-suite or C-level senior executives<medium>. C means "Chief," hence all of those officers are responsible for the company-wide decisions, but each position implies different areas of responsibility.

The Chief technology officer is one of the vaguest and broad of all C-suite positions. <medium>This leadership function combines technology and management issues and primarily focuses on the tech stack<medium> that helps a company grow.

In general, the Chief Technology Officer's role is to manage an organization's research and development as well as its technological needs. A CTO should capitalize on the knowledge of existing and emerging technologies to provide the business with the best possible future solutions.

In his interview with John Brockman, founder of Edge, Nathan Myhrvold explains how being a CTO feels to him:


It's almost impossible to give an exact answer to the question "what does a Chief Technical Officer do?" because their duties significantly vary depending on the size and type of company (service or product), as well as the company lifecycle.

Tom Berray and Ray Sampath made an outstanding contribution to this issue's elucidation in their definitive work "The Role of the CTO: Four Models for Success." They suggested a model that dissects the Chief Technology Officer role based on organizational needs into four types:

chief technology officer


How to determine when you need a CTO?

Our experience proves that most startups do not need a СТО on an ongoing basis but only to assist in critical decisions. There are also several more reasons <medium>why it is not advisable<medium> to hire this officer just after the startup launch:

  • it isn't easy to find a person with the same project vision and pursuit;
  • it's expensive because CTO startup is a well-paid position;
  • it takes a lot of time and commitment since headhunting a person with the required tech competency and wiliness to partner is a difficult task (this is not the same as hiring even a high-skilled developer).

On the other hand, small and medium businesses and fast-growing startups are the organizations that <medium>could benefit when hiring a CTO<medium> for a number of reasons:


The main Chief Technology Officer responsibilities in product development

In the product development domain, the main CTO's objective is to ensure technology implementation satisfies customer needs while keeping the development profitable. They guide the team through technological decisions to get to the set destination.

How to be a CTO who succeeds in product development? Such an individual need to maintain balance on three pivots:

  • Technical capability
  • Domain knowledge
  • Great execution
what does a Chief Technical Officer do

The combination of these competencies is the key to delivering a useful qualitative product in time. Speaking more specifically a person playing such a Chief Technology Officer role <medium>should be well versed in:<medium>

  • Development of a tech product vision and roadmap;
  • Architecture building;
  • Supervising product development;
  • User Research, UI/UX;
  • Quality Assurance, DevOps;
  • Teams management;
  • Collaboration with product owners, VP of engineering, and founders;
  • Technical support.

CTO, Co-Founder or tech partner

Activities similar to CTO can be carried out by other executors, namely Co-founder and Tech Partner. The table below may be helpful for employers when finding a technical cofounder, tech partner, or Chief Technical Officer.

what does CTO stand for


CTO role depending on the company lifecycle

As we have already mentioned, the Chief Technology Officer role changes depending on the company lifecycle. That is so because each development stage is unique and represents a challenge from a different perspective.

Let's briefly detail how CTOs responsibilities may evolve with the company's progress.

CTO startup


Alternatives to finding a CTO

"How to find a CTO?" is a common question for non-tech founders and entrepreneurs who run/own multiple companies. However, it often makes sense to take a broader approach to this issue and consider other options for implementing the project's tech side. It may be a part-time consultant, outsourcing development team, or CTO-as-a-Service.

Possible one of them helps a company to achieve a good result, spending reasonable time and money. Whether this is a good idea <medium>depends a lot on the type of developed product:<medium> a high tech product may need a CTO, and a less high tech one may not.

We made a short analysis and provided the advantages and disadvantages of each alternative.

how to find a CTO


Wrapping up

Most companies need someone who can bridge the gap between technology and business. Usually, this function is performed by CTO.

The Chief Technology Officer role greatly depends on the business cluster, size, and development stage of the company and may cover such issues as:

  • Technical strategy
  • Software development
  • Business-level tasks
  • People management and team coordination
  • Cybersecurity

<medium>The smaller the company is, the more CTO is involved in the development and less in the management (and vice versa).<medium> Frequently startups do not need a full-time СТО at all. Moreover, CTO is scarce. That's why hiring the one can take time. Not to lose momentum on the market and save money, it is worth considering other viable options:

  • Technical partner to outsource software development
  • The assistance of the CTO as a service
  • Part-time consultant

Freshcode experts are ready to discuss the partnership and suitable solutions that our CTO may offer for your product development. You can book a free consultation on our website or contact our representative via LinkedIn.


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