In our ever-connected world, the role of chief technology officer (CTO) continues to rise in prominence as one of the key decision makers within a company.
From traditional IT to web development and everything in between — the CTO’s role is expanding by the day. As new technologies and innovations begin to disrupt the workflow of more and more industries and departments, the CTO must stay ahead of the curve in understanding these changes.
Successful leaders always have a plan, and the CTO is no different. Whether you’ve recently changed companies, or been promoted to the role, it’s important to self-reflect early and determine how you’ll help move the company forward.
Here are 5 questions to ask to on your first day in the office as CTO.
How can I define my role?
There’s no guidebook or set of instructions as to what your tenure as CTO will look like. Rackspace CTO John Engates, said that the needs of the company you’re working for will help to determine your role as CTO. You’ll likely wear many hats and could act as lead software architect, chief hardware engineer, or something else entirely.
Additionally, he said, the role can be internal or customer-facing. Try to get a sense, by talking with the CEO or CIO, for how involved you will be in sales meetings and plan your course of action to fit that path.
“There are all kinds of companies at different stages of development and CTOs tend to adapt to their surroundings and change with the needs of the company. A new CTO at a company must figure out how to spend his or her time to have the most impact and serve the company effectively.”
How will I communicate?
We all know that clear communication is important, but that understanding must be acted on if you want to have success as CTO of your organization.
“Effective communication is the most important part of running an engineering organization,” said Cal Henderson, CTO of Slack. “It’s very important for a new CTO to establish team communication protocols and implement tools that allow the simple and clear exchange of information.”
Study your company’s organizational structure. Try to get a feel for who you can rely on to help you champion new initiatives and disseminate messages quickly. You will not be effective as a leader if your team feels left out of the conversation.
How will we use tools?
A major part of your job as CTO is not only choosing what tools you and your teams will be using, but identifying your culture around how you approach new tools. Popularized in the startup world, the agile method for development is one path to take. Or, you can follow a more traditional path.
Things such as DevOps and mobile need to be accounted for as well. However, Engates said, unless you’re joining a startup you likely won’t be starting with a blank slate.
“The CTO must take a big picture view of things and decide where to allow teams to adopt new tools and methodologies and where to maintain status quo,” Engates said. “The hardest part is balancing it all and preventing culture clash.”
What does the “T” stand for?
Generally, CTO has stood for either chief technology officer or chief technical officer. While this may seem a case of minor semantics, the deeper issue is in understanding how your time will be spent and how you’ll approach new challenges.
“In practice, I’ve found that the ‘T’ can stand for traveling, talking, troubleshooting, tinkering, troublemaking, and lots of other things,” Engates said. “Ultimately you need to decide what to put on the business card though.”
Additionally, defining the “T” will also play into how you will spend your time as CTO. It’s important to carve out time for things such as speaking and traveling, Engates said, if that is something you want to focus on.
What decisions can I put off until later?
As a CTO, there isn’t a point in your career where you’ll no longer need to make decisions. However, SAP CTO Quentin Clark said there many important decisions that shouldn’t be made on the first day.
“I do think it’s important for a new CTO to be relentlessly curious about a few things from day one and be ready to take action,” Clark said.
Be observant and take notes so you will be able to make those decisions when the time comes. Clark gave the following examples of things you should be aware of that will play into future decisions:
- Team strengths and weaknesses
- Enduring assets
- Situationally leveragable assets
- Asset gaps relative to the company’s vision
- Areas in tech facing destruction
- Technology positions of the main competitors
- Customer feedback
- Employee feedback
As an executive, the questions will never end. Hopefully, by consistently asking the right questions you will better set yourself up for success as CTO.