By Leslie Wheeler • February 24, 2020

6 Skills Every CTO Should Have

Your CTO is responsible for setting the path for your company’s technology vision, choosing which technologies to invest in, and building a team to support those technologies.

This person, more than anyone else, will be responsible for the success or failure of your organization’s speed of innovation—so it’s critical to gain a strong understanding of their background, philosophies, and skill sets around the technologies your company is using now and may adapt to in the future. Here’s a look at some of the critical skills to look for when assessing a CTO.

  1. A solid technical background
    While CTOs have moved beyond performing head-down development work, it’s extremely beneficial if they have strong technical skills in software engineering, so they’re able to easily communicate with their development team and understand the challenges they face in their work. Indeed found that Agile, JavaScript, and machine learning skills are most prevalent in job descriptions for CTOs. 

  2. A focus on continuing professional development
    A great CTO knows that learning doesn’t end in the classroom. While most CTOs will have a graduate-level degree such as an MBA already, it’s also important to choose someone who’s shown passion for ongoing professional development in technology skills, with experience in online courses to develop their chops in IT management, information systems management, or business management.

  3. Great management skills
    A CTO candidate is the leader of your technology team—so while it’s helpful to see that the candidate has the skill sets and industry expertise to develop a comprehensive strategy, it’s equally important to know that the candidate has the leadership qualities that you’re looking for in a department head. When evaluating a candidate, look at 360-degree reports from the individual’s managers and direct reports to get a better sense of their skills and weaknesses in managing and working with other people. You need to find someone who can build a loyal team culture and demonstrate empathy towards all coworkers, while simultaneously developing a highly efficient organization.

  4. A work history that demonstrates leadership
    If your CTO is being promoted internally, they’ve likely done their time to prove true value at your organization, with many strategic wins over the years—if the hire is external, you’ll want to see demonstrated experience in a similar role. For Fortune 100 CTOs who came to their role through internal promotions, 39% of them had already spent at least 16 years working at the company. For external hires, previous CTO experience can provide a resumé boost: 52% of CTOs hired from outside the company had previous CTO experience. 

  5. A strong understanding of artificial intelligence
    Modern businesses are embracing artificial intelligence and machine learning at a rapid pace, helping them to automate and streamline previously manual actions in everything from HR to customer service. A strong CTO candidate needs to have a strong vision of how AI can be used to enhance your company’s operations and future-proof against competitive offerings.

  6. A strong cybersecurity vision
    Cybersecurity is one of the most critical issues facing any modern business, and, if your business doesn’t have a dedicated chief information security officer (CISO) in place, responsibilities for building and maintaining a strong cybersecurity posture generally fall to your CTO. Make sure that any CTO candidate you’re considering has a compelling understanding of the risks of failing to adequately protect your enterprise, and has a vision in place for how to set up a cybersecurity defense team with a mix of internal and external resources. To secure your cybersecurity plan, check out our upcoming event here:

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A CTO’s primary responsibility is to understand and implement technologies that help a business achieve its goals and objectives. Keep these skills in mind when hiring, assessing, or aspiring to be a CTO. It's also critical for a CTO to direct four primary areas of the business including implementing infrastructure, technology planning, thought leadership, and customer experience. 

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