Level 4: Final Boss, Chief Technology Officer (CTO)
By: Ben Weiss, Digital Marketing Strategist, Infusive Solutions Inc.
Special thanks to Greg Meyer, Chief Technology Officer at Strategic Technology Consulting, LLC.
The first thing to remember here is that the CTO's profile is highly variable. For example, at smaller companies, the CTO may be virtually synonymous with the software manager or senior developer and thus the tools to impress him/her in those instances can be found in the cheat codes for levels 2 and 3.
Additionally, at some firms, the meeting with the CTO will be nothing more than a handshake and a brief chat about the firm and its goals.
But, for now let's assume that you've advanced to an interview with a "classic" CTO - a member of the executive committee who reports to a CEO or board of directors, is deeply immersed and experienced in business, finance and brand imaging and who is very much a C-level strategist.
In this case, any way you can show your interest and commitment to forward-thinking technical investments, macro strategy, interoperability between departments and team dynamics is paramount.
With that information in hand, here are a few other cheats you can dial in before stepping into the CTO's office.
You may not need to be long-winded about the tech
A CTO may ask you a few standard technical questions to quickly gauge your qualifications. However, by the time you've landed at the CTO's doorstep, your technical abilities have likely been thoroughly assessed by other members of the team. Consequently, understanding your basic technical qualifications should happen relatively quickly without much effort required on either side. Nonetheless, still prepare yourself to dive deeper if necessary.
Stay smart when talking about topics outside software development
Just as in the software manager interview, the CTO may ask deceptively basic questions that have nothing to do with software development to determine your fit for the role.
"Assuming that they have the skill set to do the work I try to get [software development candidates] to talk about non-software development topics as soon as I can," said Greg Meyer, Chief Technology Officer at Strategic Consulting Technologies, LLC in Maryland. "Asking someone the question ‘Who do you prefer: the Ravens or the Redskins?' provides real value. It's not the answer to the question, but the follow-on conversation that's important as it leads to an understanding of accessibility [whether or not you maintain availability via phone and email once you leave the office] and value systems."
Similarly, other CTOs may ask scenario-based questions such as how candidates have overcome a big challenge in their life to see how they've thought through obstacles.
Naturally, candidates who say they've never had a problem they weren't able to easily solve are passed over.
So don't allow yourself to be lulled into a false sense of security and use even the simplest questions as a platform to describe your suitability to the role at hand.
Convey a desire to grow with the company as a loyal employee
Remember that another of the classic CTO's responsibilities is to bring on the right developers, provide the tools for those developers to be successful and simultaneously shield the team from any wrath trickling down from the top of the totem pole.
As such, if you indicate to the CTO that your energies will be distributed across a range of other responsibilities outside of the job for which you're interviewing, that could yield major red flags since he/she will need to deal with the fallout of poor performance or spontaneous developer migration.
Convey Adaptability: Considering the CTO typically pioneers technical strategy at a firm, he/she will be looking for developers with the adaptability to forge new trails with concepts or technologies expected to yield growth and innovation.
Therefore, if you come off as set in your ways, resistant to change and only interested in a narrow set of tools, you will quickly fall behind candidates who have the ability and willingness to use whatever tools or strategies the CTO wants to pursue.
Ask Questions Beyond Coding: Many development candidates come off as just coders - those who can develop code based on a technical requirement. However, the CTO will be impressed by those who transcend the notion of the coder and show themselves to be true software developers capable of analyzing and optimizing technical and business requirements.
So while you will certainly want to ask how a specific
technology is deployed within that firm's environment, prodding into
release/change management, version control, automated testing and
internationalization can indicate you may not only be an asset to the firm's
technical niche but a valuable player who can contribute to the firm's overall
Remember that every hiring process will have individual differences. Different organizations will bring different professionals into the fold, at times requiring candidates to meet with others like a portfolio manager, law firm partner or CEO.
On the other hand, some interview processes (especially at smaller organizations with fewer personnel) may be shorter because a single person rides the line between the CTO, software manager and senior developer's responsibilities.
Also, certain industries like finance and law may have stricter behavioral and appearance requirements, seeking candidates that not only have solid technical and problem solving acumen but who are polished and have pervasively shiny hair and shoes.
Consequently, make sure to combine these general tips with your own common sense and diligent research. Use resources like CareerCup, Glassdoor, your personal network or a trusted recruiter to learn the specifics of a firm's process and then supplement your approach with the most appropriate pieces of information within this guide.
And of course, should you ever need more assistance, don't forget that your friends at Infusive Solutions, CareerCup and Astron Solutions are always here for consultation!