Thursday, March 15, 2012

Another quick(?) question

I was asked: In your opinion, from a Google perspective, what qualities make up a great CTO?

I'm not sure what a “Google perspective” is, but I can dig up an uniformed opinion or two (or three).

As an officer of a business, a CTO has the primary responsibility of keeping the business going and growing (“maximizing shareholder value”), with particular emphasis on the technological tools the company uses and perhaps creates. A good CTO would be well-informed about where the state-of-the-art is and where it will be in a few years and what tools will give the most advantage with the least cost and risk.

That's the business school answer. I didn't go to business school.

I have been employed by a few companies that were big enough to have a CTO, and I have a different opinion in that context. While I want the company to be successful, and I do my part to help, I don't have the responsibility to consider the “business issues” associated with the technology. I personally take into consideration the effect that the technology has on my job and my co-workers jobs. I went to a tech school because I like technology for its own sake. I like to hang out and work with others that feel the same way. As an employee, I want a CTO that does what is necessary for the business, but also provides sufficient tools and “toys” so that my job is interesting, exciting, and challenging. If the work is dull, tedious, and requires little thought, I start to daydream about something better.

You can see that my desires aren't perfectly aligned with the CTO's responsibilities, so a company with a “great” CTO might be anathema to me, but a CTO that indulges the engineers of a company much more than is strictly necessary for business would make me more interested in being employed there.


John Cowan said...

From the viewpoint of the other C*Os, the CTO position is a place to stuff a technically minded founder where he can do almost nothing to interfere with the divinely mandated plan of either running the company into the ground or dumping its worthless shell onto the competition, taking as little time as possible and with maximum profit to the said C*Os.

I have a friend who's been involved in several startups, and who describes this phenomenon as "the CTO trap". To twist one of Zawinski's Laws still further: A man has a solution to a problem. He thinks, "I'll start up a company to exploit the solution." Now he has two problems, one of which has no solution.

Robert Vuković said...

I will have to disagree with you. If a company is wise enough it should know that most valubale resources are it's people. Making employees heppy is good for the business so goog CTO should be making right balance between enough new toys and pragmatic valeu of them.