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CTO vs. VP of Engineering
• In many startups especially, the difference between a CTO and VP of Engineering becomes blurry • There is often enough overlap that one person can do both jobs when the company is tiny... • ...but as a team expands, the need for distinct roles grows • One is not necessarily subservient to the other — both roles are critical and they must work as a team • What are these roles?3
CTO? • The CTO is
the Chief Technology Ofﬁcer, and in a startup, will likely be the technical co-founder • The CTO establishes the vision and culture • The CTO must be as technical as required to validate the vision and the culture • Beyond this, the CTO is (or should be) largely outward facing — the CTO should understand the relationship between the technology and the larger world • As a company grows and expands, the CTO will be at a crossroads: become the VP of Engineering and hire a CTO, or remain the CTO and hire a VP of Engineering4
VP of Engineering? • The
Vice President of Engineering is responsible for the development and delivery of the product • Critically, this includes the recruitment of the team • Should be the exemplar of engineering • Should be an engineer that the team feels comfortable looking to on a wide range of technical problems5
So who innovates? • Neither
the CTO nor the VP of Engineering is singularly responsible for innovation; they most foster it together • They must create a culture (CTO) and a team (VP of Engineering) that is empowered to think big • Both CTO and VP of Engineering must — as a team — embrace ideas, explore them and expand upon them • The CTO must communicate them upward and outward • The VP of Engineering must distill them into shipping product or functional system6
Anti-patterns • Because the speciﬁcs
of the roles can vary signiﬁcantly from company to company, itʼs hard to prescribe one “right” way to divide the CTO from VP of Engineering • Easier to deﬁne the wrong way • There are particular anti-patterns for these two roles that seem to represent common failure modes • Broadly, CTOs fail when they think that they are engineers, not communicators; VPs of Engineering fail when they think they are managers of people, not creators of useful things7