Rising from the coding ranks to become a CTO

Being a CTO means you understand how to use technology to help your company build a product

fish bowl raise promotion
Credit: Thinkstock

Rising from the ranks of script kiddie to CTO requires more than excelling at coding. A passion for technology is a requirement, but being a CTO requires blending technical skills with business acumen.

Besides an organization’s software developers, most likely no one at a company cares how elegant your algorithm is. Potential customers probably aren’t asking sales representatives about your product’s code. But what your sales prospects and co-workers do care about is how that algorithm impacts your business. Being a CTO means you understand how to use technology to help your company build a product.

CTOs use technology to help the business improve its products

Being a CTO means you no longer create a product simply because it’s cool or the technology it uses is trendy. As a CTO, you’re responsible for building software that your customer needs and for developing a product and technology with the mindset of its role of t in the company’s overall business. Getting into this mindset can be challenging for developers. After all, developers are not typically taught to think of how their work helps the bottom line or leads to products that win over customers.

CTOs can’t work in a silo surrounded by other technical people. They’re part of a team. An essential part of the CTO role is seeing how different parts of a company interact and work together to ultimately create a product that you can sell. As a developer, you may have helped create an amazing software. But as a CTO, you’re charged with thinking about overall product lifecycle. How do you sell and market your product? How do customers use your product? How does your product meet their needs? Is there a way to incorporate their feedback into your product?

Answering these questions means a CTO must understand the functions of different departments and how their people contribute to the company’s overall success. Without the right people in non-technical roles, even products with the stellar technical specifications can fail. Having a product flop for reasons that are in no way related to its technology is a very humbling experience for a CTO. The lesson here for aspiring CTOs is that amazing software needs people behind it to help your buyers know how incredible it is.

Non-technical people are a CTO’s friends

As CTO, you need to help others in your company understand what sets your product apart from the competition. Instead of looking at departments that don’t deal with technology as nuisance, ask how these departments solve the problems that the company faces. CTOs need to learn the roles of marketing, product marketing, customer success and product development, among other departments, in helping a product succeed. Learn what kind of messaging a product marketing manager is crafting to describe your product. Ask your customer service manager what customers are saying about your technology. Find out what technical questions prospective customers frequently ask your sales team. Learning this information can lead to a better product and increased sales.

As for technical skills, excelling at one technology isn’t enough to earn the CTO spot. Developers looking to advance to the CTO role need a more mature and robust view of technology and understand how all a company’s technology works together. For example, as a CTO you should know how a backend development project could impact your customer’s experience with your product. But if you only focus on your domain and the projects in them, you lose sight of what’s most important for the business.

Always stay curious about technology

Being a CTO doesn’t mean giving up your interest in technology. Stay curious in the latest trends, but always from the perspective of how they fit with your business goals and improve your product. The best CTOs are the ones who leverage technology to help a company achieve its mission and develop an outstanding product.

My own career followed this path from developer to CTO. I was a developer in the Israel Defense Force for four years and, after leaving the army, spent four years working as a lead programmer at different tech companies. I then became CTO of an information security company where one of my main duties was managing its research and development.

Currently, I’m the CTO of Cybereason, a Boston-based information security company with products that include an endpoint detection platform. In addition to providing aspiring CTOs with a roadmap, addressing this topic in my first post will hopefully give you a sense of my approach to technology and software development. My future columns will cover all aspects of enterprise software development, particularly from a technical perspective.

This article is published as part of the IDG Contributor Network. Want to Join?

Related:
From CIO: 8 Free Online Courses to Grow Your Tech Skills