- The cons of being a CTO
- What is a CTO in your company?
- Your boss is probably the CFO
- CTO is a role that evolves with time
- High risk of meltdown
- High risk of resignation
- The Pros of being a CTO
Becoming the CTO of a company is one of the highest peaks you can possibly climb in your career. There are many different ways to earn this role of course, but it always brings you very close to touching the sky.
A CTO stands on the third-highest step on the career pyramid, just below the President and the CEO. When these two roles are held by the same person, the CTO climbs a step higher into second place. From there, the view is shared with the other C-level executives in your company’s organisational chart, such as the CIO/CISO and CFO. Many experts debate whether the CTO is really at the same level as these other executive roles, taking into account that the yearly salary of a CTO is often substantially lower than that of his or her colleagues; on the other hand, many more people note that the richness of the CTO role provides greater compensation than any salary increase, and can more easily boost its holders into the CEO role in due course.
This role vs. salary observation is the first consideration when looking at the pros and cons of being a CTO. Let’s dive into the specifics with a list of cons, followed immediately by a second list dedicated to the pros.
The cons of being a CTO
Being a CTO is a more complex task than that of any other top level executive. Exploring the cons is much more interesting than exploring the positive aspects, and it is important to look at the downsides as a basis for comparing these with the positive aspects of the role.
What is a CTO in your company?
The CTO role follows a recipe very close to that of most Cajun cooking: you can put everything but the kitchen sink into your dish – anything you have in the kitchen – and every guest will be happy with your food. In the same manner, your role as a CTO can cover any gap in your company’s situation: teams, the relationships between other CxOs, or the customer base, as you know and plan in advance all the necessary steps for the company to deliver its range of products and/or services.
We have written many stories about the many personalities a CTO needs to include in their identity. The principal ways of working in this role are discussed in a previous article published in our magazine. There are 4 different types of CTO: the Big Thinker, the Visionary, the Customer Champion, and The General-Tech CTO, but the truth is that a CTO always needs to be a linear combination of all four types, changing the mix in response to changes in their environment.
Your boss is probably the CFO
As a CTO, you are normally parallel with the CIO and the CFO. The organisational chart gives you a clear indication that the CEO is your boss. This is fundamentally true, but you will normally have a second boss who is even more important. Your future success depends primarily on how you cope with the company’s strategy while being the glue that holds all the parts together. Coping with strategy means having privileged access to the company’s money, managed by the chief financial officer. As a result, your CFO is in many ways a more important boss than your CEO.
Having two bosses is a complication, so it belongs on the ‘cons’ list!
CTO is a role that evolves with time
The CTO job changes continuously, in response to circumstance. Often, these changes involve situations that were previously unknown and need competing resources.
As a technology-driven executive, you may not have a technical background, but you have to understand where the processes you oversee are driving your company.
The size of your company is the most important thing in determining what competencies you need. The CTO of a small startup company needs to take care of a million different things every day, like all the other Cx-somethings in this sort of company, which normally starts with just a few people who are, in fact, their own executive team.
High risk of meltdown
The CTO role requires you to solve many challenges every day. A CTO needs to be consistently on call for minute-by-minute operations, last-minute requests from everybody, and continual adjustments to the company’s strategic framework. That’s why stress-related syndromes can arise at any moment, and probably will.
Your best hope is that they will show up one at a time, and not all at once. Should that happen, you will probably experience the most common problem among successful CTOs: mental breakdown.
What is a meltdown and how does it affect your planning and decision-making capabilities?
The expression ‘nervous’ or ‘mental breakdown’ is used to describe a period of intense mental distress. During this period, you’re unable to function as you normally would in your everyday life, a condition a CTO should never experience.
Acute stress disorders quickly lead to depression, anxiety, and a general inability to cope with challenges. Stress creeps up through normal CTO activities, and there are often obvious warning signs, such as the lack of a clear roadmap and an inability to say no. Clearly, if you find yourself in this condition, you are unable to function as a CTO.
High risk of resignation
As CTO of a company, you are very powerful, which is one of the pros of such a position. CTO is a highly sought-after role among the ambitious, so available positions are rare. You hold many strings in your hands: this makes you powerful, but also increases your risk. When a CxO fails, quitting is often the only option. If you fear failure, it’s likely that you will try to avoid resigning as CTO so that you don’t have to change companies.
There are many reasons for resigning, failure being only one possibility.
Underestimating the risk that lies in not taking your responsibilities seriously is a huge mistake. You have to think of your career as a sequence of steps you can take – happy when climbing, less happy when descending, but lateral steps are also available . You will undoubtedly change company at least once, but it’s more likely you will experience two or more changes of company, and in most cases, these moves will be your choice.
Make sure you find time to build a reputation within the relevant communities through your actions in any position you take, and plan exactly what you want to write in your CV. You will climb the career ladder on your own merits if you communicate your strengths clearly to your future stakeholders.
The Pros of being a CTO
Working as a CTO offers you the best chance to identify any qualities you are lacking and work on developing them. This enrichment will make your actions much more effective over time, allowing you to cover all aspects of production inside your company.
You can move to a strategic activity
All technology-driven activities will back you into a corner, sooner or later. Even constantly updating knowledge and patterns of work won’t protect you forever! As a CTO you have more ability than most to steer your career, through understanding and controlling the process of change. The CTO job allows you to move from a rapidly-changing field to a slow-moving strategic role, providing you learn how to make timely moves from one company to another. Many companies that need a CTO do not work primarily in ICT products or systems, but being an ICT manager can be a great advantage in the CTO role. The career path of a CTO is thus richer in options than other high-level roles.
You can mask your real power
The CTO is the real centre of a business, wherever you look: teams/products, C-levels, and above all, customers, all rely on the CTO. What’s really important is that your power isn’t too obvious, so you can work almost in stealth mode.This is a great advantage, allowing you to drive change without being in charge of following through on every process and providing the desired answers to stakeholders. Instead, a CTO can inspire change and monitor what happens, allowing for the collection of much valuable information.
You can improve your conflict-prevention skills
The ability to solve conflicts is one of the most recognized qualities of a leader. The CTO is a leader indeed, so must excel in this aspect of the role, as well as in many other essential areas often referred to as ‘soft skills’. Please refer to this article to learn more about the importance of emotional intelligence.
A CTO is normally required to do much more than simply resolve conflicts; he or she must stay on top of all relevant components of the company’s business in order to have a broad perspective on cause-effect relationships over time. This experience brings with it the ability to foresee and prevent conflicts, or at least to minimize the impact of conflicts that are inevitable.
The ability to prevent conflicts in complex organizations is really valuable – a career boosting skill, both within and outside the company you currently work for.
You can identify your own success
The centrality of the CTO role allows for easy evaluation of strengths and weaknesses: what part of the activity do you manage best, and where do you need to improve. A little effort will provide sound experience in all relevant fields. This experience will guide you in your subsequent career moves (horizontal, to become CTO/CIO of a different kind of company; or vertical, to be promoted as the CIO/CTO in your current field). Such moves are usually more a case of ‘when’ than ‘if’.
You oversee the complete roadmap
Becoming a complete strategist who, thanks to daily contact with all areas, manages a low-conflict company is the goal for almost everybody. The CTO can’t stop here, however, because he or she oversees the complete roadmap of all the services and products in a company’s portfolio. Financial success is the most important pro: leading production at every level, both horizontally and vertically, gives the CTO an advantage that no other executive in the company can ever have, whether that’s inside your current company, or beyond.