I’ve been thinking about this one for a while. Imagine you are the CEO of a company and your competitors are getting ahead of you because they started to use ChatGPT to build their tech. You ask the CTO what’s going on and the CTO says “ChatGPT was not on my job description, so I ignored it”. How would you feel as the CEO? Would you think “Ok, fair enough for not putting it in the job description” or would your thoughts be a bit more… colorful?

The CEO has no job description other than: “Making the company successful“. The CEO is responsible for everything. If tech fails, it is the CEO’s fault, if accounting is done wrong, it is the CEO’s fault, if marketing wastes money, it is the CEO’s fault. The buck stops there for everything.

The CTO’s role is exactly that, but just the tech part. The job description should be “Do anything and everything in the tech domain to make the company successful“. Are the servers down? It is the CTO’s fault. Marketing doesn’t have the features they need for a campaign, it is the CTO’s fault. Ransomware destroys operations, it is the CTO’s fault. Tech is spending too much money, it is the CTO’s fault. Too much technical debt, too little, not delivering fast enough, having the wrong kind of skills on the devs, devs are unhappy. Again… it all falls on the CTO’s shoulders. At least this is how I take on the role when I carry the title of CTO.

This means the CTO is responsible for problems that nobody ever assigned to them. That’s one of the reasons this role is hard. And to be able to do such a role, the CTO needs autonomy, information, access, etc.

Autonomy is achieved through budget authority. The CTO presents a budget to the CEO and CFO, who approve it and then executes on it. Ideally, then the CTO receives periodic updates from the CFO comparing expenses to budgets, and whether the company has the revenue to back that budget up. If the CTO overspends beyond the tech budget, that’s a problem, but if the company shrinks, that’s a problem too. In both cases the CTO should be proactively thinking about how to cut cost and manage the expenses (before hitting a wall, having a massive layoff, etc).

Information and access is achieved through having a strong exec team. An exec team that is all on the same page. Including a clear vision from the CEO, a clear understanding on how all other departments are achieving their goals, and how tech helps or hinders them.

So if there is a job description at all, it should be not for the role of the CTO, but rather for the company itself: what it means to achieve, and how it behaves to empower its C-Suite to further their ambitions.

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