What does the CTO do in a startup? | LANARS (2023)

Michel Krieger of Instagram, Werner Hans Peter Vogels of Amazon and David Hansson, creator of Ruby on Rail... What do they all have in common? That's right, they are remarkable CTOs who have managed to change the world with their groundbreaking technical ideas.

In 2020, the success of any business is based on advanced technologies. They are used to reduce operating costs, optimize processes, analyze market trends and forecast profits. The role of the CTO (Chief Technology Officer) is to help the company maintain its competitive edge and remain technologically viable.

The technical director's tasks are part of the technical side of the company. Depending on the company's size, marketing goals, and business area, the CTO may have different responsibilities compared to other C-level executives (eg, CEO or CFO).

What does the CTO do?

So who is a CTO (Chief Technology Officer or Head of Engineering)?

The position is considered one of the more nebulous C-level roles, as the CTO's responsibilities depend on a number of factors. region of origin, business processing style, number of internal and external employees and more. There is also no guarantee of salary. In 2020, the average salary for a CTO position worldwide is159.920 $Per year. However, blue chip companies such as IBM and Boston Dynamics do offerannual salary of about $200,000;.

You will also be hard pressed to find a common CTO job description for startups. The one thing you can be sure of is that a Chief Technology Officer's primary job is to enable a company to achieve its financial and marketing goals using an innovative technology approach.

The modern business world is digitized and related to technology, so certified CTOs from 2020 are in high demand.

They can be employed for two main purposes: to take care of internal business processes or to develop innovative products. At the same time, the CTO is the face of the technical department. They can represent their companies at conferences, fairs and other events that strengthen the company's image.

What does the CTO do in a startup? | LANARS (1)

Below are the most typical CTO roles and responsibilities:

Platform selection and technical design

It may surprise you, but the CTO will be involved (directly or indirectly) in all technical projects. The CTO is responsible for maintaining the strategic focus of the project and is responsible for implementing an idea. In small startups, the founder serves as the CTO, and in large companies, the CTO leads multiple development teams, including teams that serve the company's technical needs.

A CTO can be referred to as a product manager whose primary purpose is to lead a technical team and make business-critical technical decisions, such as technical design planning, product architecture layout, and development platform selection.

A CTO's job description can also include some practical details: If a technology team doesn't have the knowledge or resources to do a task, then it's up to the CTO to find a solution. No wonder they need to acquire a wide range of technical and 'soft' skills.

(Video) The Many Roles of a Startup CTO

CTO as a service is another approach gaining traction in 2020. Like performing technical tasks, technical oversight and management are outsourced to save project budget costs.

MVP and DevOps issues

An MVP (Minimum Viable Product) is a product with only the basic features created to test marketing hypotheses and analyze real user feedback. There is a huge difference in the roles and responsibilities of the Chief Technology Officer in a small company and a large company when it comes to MVP development.

While the CTO of a multinational company is at management levels far removed from day-to-day engineering, the CTO of a small company must perform technical tasks related to the first product iteration. Backing up the technical process also falls under the CTO, although they have a large budget and may hire team members to perform tasks related to the MVP.

As a rule, it is impossible to immediately hire all the necessary specialists, which means that the CTO must regularly fill the gaps with their skills and time.

As you can see, the CTO's responsibilities are a bit unclear. DevOps engineering (development and operations) is also a CTO's battleground. They must build the technical side of the product from scratch, including features, server interactions, scripts, development roadmaps, and SSHs.

Engineer hunting and team development management

Startup CTO's responsibilities include hiring IT experts, data scientists and engineers. In 2020, the task is thought to become more difficult for startups, as the labor market tightens, digital companies continue to grow and need more employees. Technical experts prefer to specialize in niche areas, while startups need universal soldiers.

Another role of the Chief Technology Officer is to recruit a team (with or without the help of HR managers) and then execute or oversee the onboarding process for selected candidates.

In larger companies, a CTO job description may include organizing training activities for the technical department, training support and team supervision. That is why event management and coaching experience, as well as a broad professional base of contacts, is a clear asset on a CTO's CV.

Cyber ​​security

What does the CTO do besides managing the technical department? Cyber ​​security is another issue they are responsible for. Vulnerabilities may exist in the company's databases, websites or other digital tools used by the team. Products developed by the Company may also require security algorithms to keep user data private and encrypted.

The CTO is responsible for developing security procedures, developing algorithms, performing emergency audits and more. Other engineers must work according to the safety rules set by the CTO.

QA and product test

There is another more obvious difference between startup CTO job descriptions and corporate CTO engagements. Startups rarely have a separate QA department, which means product testing must be shared between developers and other team members. It is the technical manager's responsibility to decide who is responsible for the troubleshooting process. And when a technical error is found, it is usually passed on to the CTO, who then decides how to fix it. Practical work may also include writing instructions to correct typos.

In mid-sized companies, the CTO should develop a system to test upcoming updates and tools to track progress. Given that the CTO is someone somewhere between technology and the other business areas, most questions about quality management and technology budgets are usually directed to him.

(Video) Looking for a CTO? 6 qualities a great startup CTO should have

Roadmap for growth and innovation

What does a technical manager do? Simply put, a CTO thinks about the future, maps it, and then executes the roadmap. In the discovery phase of the project, the CTO creates a roadmap for development taking into account business goals and strategies. The CTO works with various aspects of a digital product: development, UX, security, budgets, operational processes and team coordination.

In addition to implementing the MVP, the CTO is responsible for planning the next product release and technical updates. Typically, they perform fiscal roles in rebuilding MVPs, considering user feedback, working with data scientists, and filling resource gaps. Such an expert should be familiar with the security of data processing and storage.

How CTO responsibilities change as the company grows

As you noted, CTO duties should be flexible, even within a company. The larger the company, the more layers of management there are between a chief engineer and the actual execution of technical tasks.

But what is the primary responsibility of the CTO? The General Technical Manager takes care of the company's commercial goals with the help of a technical team. In a sense, a person in this position monitors the future and shapes it in a positive technical way. The CTO plans product development, estimates budgets, leads the team, develops the product and establishes work processes when reviewing product updates.

If a small startup CTO works well, the company can grow quickly and the role of the CTO will change significantly. What they must be prepared for at the various stages of the company's development, read here:

What does the CTO do in a startup? | LANARS (2)

  • Stage before sowing
    without technical experts other than the CTO

    Here we are at the pre-seed stage, where we are talking about startups trying to launch their first product. In such circumstances, the CTO is a practical engineer who must be ready to create the architecture of the digital product without the help of third parties and remains the key expert for its implementation. Data security, quality management and implementation are also their responsibilities.

    What does a Chief Technical Officer do outside of day-to-day programming tasks? In the initial stages, the head of the engineering department validates the technical complexity of the product idea and proposes technical approaches to its realization.

  • To begin
    5-10 specialists in the technical department

    The CTO's role includes the selection and recruitment of software engineers, their onboarding, training and management.

    In the start-up phase (as we wrote above), the engineering manager evaluates the business tasks and ideas and comes up with a technical stack and budget proposal. They also list the experts needed to develop the project within deadlines and perform immediate business tasks.

    The CTO works in a team as an experienced developer and helps colleagues solve bottlenecks.

    After developing an MVP, the CTO focuses on improving the product. The idea is to design new features, scale teams to meet increasing needs for technical product support, and develop a scalable, optimized product infrastructure to increase business efficiency. The CTO is still responsible for these tasks as the role shifts to a hybrid of technology visionary, HR specialist and team leader rather than a highly skilled developer.
  • Development (consolidation) phase.
    50-100 specialists in the technical department

    In the case of a startup integration phase, the Chief Technical Officer's duties include overseeing various development teams, monitoring progress, designing and implementing workflow principles, and managing security issues across the enterprise. As usual, mid-sized companies also outsource a number of product management tasks to the CTO.

    Overall management of the software product vision is an important task for the CTO in relation to the department's core tasks. However, specific tasks such as coding or QA may be performed by other team members or subgroups.

    The Engineering Manager also defines the architecture of the app and other digital products and tracks the latest technical updates to implement leading edge new approaches across the business. The CTO is the primary product architect and system administrator.

  • Expansion phase
    more than 100 experts in the technical department

    A startup CTO job description related to the expansion phase of an established startup will specify the ability to lead large or multiple departments, advanced technology implementation at the enterprise level, experience in company representation (attending conferences and other professional events), management of training sessions, and much more.

    (Video) How to become a Chief Technical Officer (CTO).

    Here, the CTO is a senior manager who is several management levels away from performing practical tasks. The ability to communicate, make precise, forward-looking decisions, monitor the progress of teams and departments, plan the development of new technological competitive advantages and be the face of technology - this is what a perfect CTO will look like.

    CTO jobs in large companies are influenced by the overall corporate style and values.

    A CTO participates in every phase of the project implementation. Read our article for more informationApplication development process: from idea to application maintenance.

What skills does a tech startup CTO need?

It is believed that the most important characteristic of a CTO's roles and responsibilities is that he has experience in both operations management and software development. One is not more important than the other. At the same time, a CTO must be flexible enough to adapt to the needs of a growing startup.

As you can see in the section above, the larger the company, the more soft skills and management experience become valuable to a CTO. Here we would like to list some of the essential skills required for the position.

What does the CTO do in a startup? | LANARS (3)

Negotiation skills

A CTO must lead the development department, approve new candidates to work on the project and encourage them to study new technologies and implement new approaches. At the same time, the CTO interacts with technology workers, HR departments, other C-level executives, and (sometimes) customers.

Creativity and problem solving skills

The CTO is the problem solver. If a problem occurs, the CTO is the first to be notified. On the one hand, the engineering manager is expected to develop and market automation solutions for business processes (debug, task execution, technical support). On the other hand, they are also specialists who work with technical issues without external support.

Sense of leadership and guidance

The Chief Technology Officer's roles and responsibilities include "selling" the company on entirely new strategic developments enabled by new technologies. The ability to inspire people to achieve more, to convince them that your vision is realistic and has certain benefits - all these skills are signs of a good CTO. The engineering manager must also know how to "home grow", acquire or outsource talent.

Continuous self-education

CTOs in medium and small companies are usually the most skilled technical experts on a team. This rule changes when we are talking about a large company, where the CTO has more management-related tasks and fewer engineering-related tasks.

However, both options have something in common. The CTO is the best technical visionary in a company. To stay busy, they need to study new ways of working, discover technologies and feel comfortable in a high-level professional environment.

Advanced technical skills

(Video) Day In The Life Of A CTO

Creating digital product architecture, developing and testing MVPs and APIs, managing enterprise technology systems, DevOps skills - all these things can be found when reading a CTO job description at various companies. These skills are necessary for your business depending on its size and technical capabilities.

Think strategically

CTO leads and installs technology stack. They choose a development approach, a workflow philosophy and plan or manage project budgets together with the relevant project manager.

The CTO also has tasks at the company level: they define the company's technical strategy and the development body. That is why it is so important for a CTO to be able to see the whole picture at different levels – project, department and company.


As you can see, the responsibilities of a CTO can hardly be defined in a few lines. The dilemma is that the engineering manager is a position that straddles the line between technical execution and operations management.

A CTO is expected to have advanced soft and hard skills (computer science is more preferred).

So what does a CTO do? The person in this role provides technical leadership across all aspects of the business, balancing the needs of employees, users (or customers) and stakeholders. Depending on the characteristics of the company, a CTO's duties will vary. Developing technical strategies, security vulnerabilities, mentoring team members, quality control, discovering and implementing new technical trends, researching feedback, launching MVP and finding effective solutions to persistent technical problems are just the most common examples.

To find out the criteria for you to choose a CTO for your company, you need to assess your company's current and future technical needs. If you're planning to apply for a CTO position in any company, you'll need to craft a resume that emphasizes technical expertise and business process management skills.


How do I find a CTO for a startup?

Hackathons, conferences, meetups, summits are all great opportunities to discover a potential CTO who would be a great asset to your company. There is also an endless list of platforms dedicated to finding technical professionals like a CTO.

When should I hire a CTO?

There are several factors that determine whether it is time for your company to hire a Chief Technology Officer. But if you can afford it, hire a hands-on CTO from day one. You need someone on the team who can make important technical decisions.

When should I hire a CTO?

There are several factors that determine whether it is time for your company to hire a Chief Technology Officer. But if you can afford it, hire a hands-on CTO from day one. You need someone on the team who can make important technical decisions.

What is the role of a CTO in a startup?

(Video) What Does A CTO Do? | Terminal Tech Talks

The CTO will be responsible for all technology and technology resources in the company, establishing the organization's technology vision, strategies and development plans.

What makes a good CTO?

A good CTO is a combination of business and technical talent. A CTO must be able to evaluate multiple technologies and determine the best fit for the business.


What does the CTO do in a startup? | LANARS? ›

As the name suggests, the CTO is responsible for the technical strategy of a business, both building the technology as well as creating and managing the team to maintain it.

What are the responsibilities of the CTO? ›

A chief technology officer (CTO) is responsible for overseeing the development and dissemination of technology for external customers, vendors, and other clients to help improve and increase business. They may also deal with internal IT operations if a company is small and doesn't have a chief information officer.

What makes a good startup CTO? ›

A good CTO is well-versed in technology. The qualities of a CTO include having accumulated vast technical experience by having worked on different levels of development and have dealt with many challenges. They would know the different programming languages, their major uses with pros and cons.

Is CTO more important than CEO? ›

In simple terms, a CEO manages a company, whereas a CTO oversees the technical team. Clients and staff in every organization search eagerly for the relationship between CTO and CEO because both roles carry a lot of responsibility.

Does CTO always report to CEO? ›

Does the CTO report to CEO or COO? The CTO usually reports directly to a company's chief information officer (CIO) but may also report to the chief executive officer (CEO) of the firm.

Is a CTO a leader? ›


As a member of the executive team, a great CTO has leadership skills, including the ability to inspire their team, delegate responsibilities, and ensure a positive technological transformation.

What is a startup CTO salary? ›

While ZipRecruiter is seeing annual salaries as high as $274,000 and as low as $26,500, the majority of Startup Cto salaries currently range between $102,500 (25th percentile) to $185,500 (75th percentile) with top earners (90th percentile) making $230,000 annually across the United States.

What is a typical startup CTO salary? ›

CTO Startup Salary
Annual SalaryMonthly Pay
Top Earners$247,500$20,625
75th Percentile$195,000$16,250
25th Percentile$106,000$8,833

How much should a CTO get paid? ›

The average salary for a CTO (Chief Technology Officer) with 7+ years of experience is $222,158. The average salary for <1 year of experience is $140,045.

Is being a CTO stressful? ›

Both a technical and strategic executive, a CTO must cope with stress related to leadership and coming from the development teams, the other CxOs, and customers.

Who gets paid more CEO or CTO? ›

The average annual salary for a CTO is $134,489 per year , while the average annual salary for a CEO is $115,385 per year . The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the job outlook for top executive roles to grow by 4% through 2029, matching the national average for all occupations.

Who gets paid more CIO or CTO? ›

However, as of 2021, CTOs have the salary edge over CIOs. According to Glassdoor, the average annual salary of a CIO in the U.S. is $169,132. The average CTO salary is $206,961.

What does a CTO do on a daily basis? ›

In addition to fixing IT-related issues, the CTO is responsible for developing, implementing, managing and evaluating the company's technology resources. The goal of a CTO is to examine short- and long-term needs while using capital to make investments that aid the organization in reaching its goals.

Who usually reports to the CTO? ›

Yes. The VP of Engineering will work directly with and report to the CTO. Both roles are executive-level positions and will work closely together. The VPE will usually report directly to the CTO, while the CTO reports to the CEO.

When should a company hire a CTO? ›

The Funding Stage

The seed stage is the perfect time to hire a CTO because the startup will develop its idea, product, and concept. At the seed stage, CTOs are often responsible for all things technical. For example, frontend, backend, DevOps, and anything that gets the product up and running.

What position is equivalent to CTO? ›

Similar Job Titles to a Chief Technology Officer

For example, some employers may refer to a Chief Technology Officer as either a Chief Information Officer or a Vice President Of Technology.

Does a CTO manage a team? ›

Operational guide. In this case, the CTO is primarily an operations manager who is responsible for leading the engineering team. As usual, the CTO is still an A-level developer with a deep knowledge of programming, but purely development tasks have faded into the background.

Do you need an MBA to be a CTO? ›

An advanced degree in business can provide a competitive edge when pursuing the CTO position. Besides strong technical skills and deep industry knowledge, a CTO must demonstrate the ability to bridge the technical and business worlds. An MBA does exactly that.

What is the average tenure of a CTO? ›

The average C-suite tenure shrank from 5.3 years in 2016 to 4.9 in 2019, according to a Korn Ferry analysis of the top 1,000 U.S. companies by revenue.

What percentage of startup equity does a CTO get? ›

In a startup, equity share usually depends on the person's contribution: Senior programmers are ready to work for a small amount of equity. CTOs want a tech salary and a fair amount of equity. Co-founders—be ready to part with a sizable amount of equity (up to 50%).

What is the difference between startup CTO and CPO? ›

The CTO takes care of “how” to create and improve the product to achieve the company's goal. The CPO, on the other hand, takes care of answering “why” do we need this product. It is the CTO's job to incorporate technology into the company in order to create or improve products.

How much do CTO startups make in NYC? ›

While ZipRecruiter is seeing salaries as high as $384,167 and as low as $38,248, the majority of Cto Startup salaries currently range between $151,300 (25th percentile) to $272,200 (75th percentile) with top earners (90th percentile) making $337,482 annually in New York City.

How do I become a startup CTO? ›

Typical Steps to Becoming a CTO
  1. Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree. ...
  2. Step 2: Gain On-the-Job Experience. ...
  3. Technical Skills. ...
  4. Business and Management Skills. ...
  5. Step 3: Earn a Master's Degree (Optional) ...
  6. CTO Salaries and Job Outlook. ...
  7. The Importance of Vision.

Is CTO a full time job? ›

A Chief Technology Officer (CTO) is responsible for technology, teams and suppliers. They drive innovation and efficiency across the business. The fractional term simply means part-time or interim. Hiring a full-time CTO is an expensive exercise.

How much does a CTO of a Fortune 500 company make? ›

Salary potential: Just less than what a CIO can earn. If the CIO of a Fortune 500 company earns $500,000 per year, the CTO will earn $250,000 to $350,000, according Beverly Lieberman, president of recruiting firm Halbrecht Lieberman Associates.

How much does the CTO of Amazon make? ›

The average Amazon CTO earns an estimated $198,093 annually. Amazon's CTO compensation is $23,546 less than the US average for a CTO. The Engineering Department at Amazon earns $14,890 more on average than the HR Department.

Is IT better to be CTO or CIO? ›

The key difference is that CIOs tend to have a more inward focus and look for ways to trim the costs of IT infrastructure while ensuring compliance and boosting productivity. CTOs tend to have a more outward focus and are looking for ways that new technologies could grow opportunities.

Is CTO lower than CEO? ›

Also known as a chief technical officer, this individual examines an organization's short- and long-term needs and utilizes capital to make investments designed to help the organization reach its objectives. The CTO usually reports directly to the chief executive officer (CEO) of the firm.

Who gets paid the most at a startup? ›

Most people would think the founder or CEO is the highest paid person at a startup. But that's not the case. Typically one of two people, the VP of sales or the CTO, are the highest paid employees at early-stage startups.

Is CTO an executive position? ›

What Is a CTO? A chief technology officer (CTO) is a top executive that oversees the entire information technology department and is responsible for integrating business needs and requirements into IT planning and operations.

What are top C suite salaries? ›

C Suite Executive Salary
Annual SalaryMonthly Pay
Top Earners$240,500$20,041
75th Percentile$147,500$12,291
25th Percentile$103,500$8,625

What is a top paid CTO? ›

The salaries of CTOs in the US range from $61,000 to $1,850,000 , with a median salary of $200,000 . The middle 50% of CTOs makes between $154,000 and $199,500, with the top 83% making $1,850,000.

Is being CTO a good job? ›

One of the top C-suite positions, it is a highly demanding job with a promising pay scale. From research and development to the product cycle, a CTO oversees multiple aspects to meet the business goal. If keeping up with technological trends is your thing, you should try a career as a CTO.

Is CTO above director? ›

A CTO is a Chief Technology Officer. A CTO sits between the CIO and the IT director and generally acts as a right-hand man to the CIO. A CTO will be involved in a lot of conversations about strategies and planning, but they are also going to be the direct link to the IT staff, help desk, and lead engineers.

What is the primary responsibility of the CTO quizlet? ›

The chief technology officer (CTO) is responsible for ensuring the throughput, speed, accuracy, availability, and reliability of an organization's information technology.

What is the role of a CTO or CIO at an organization? ›

A CIO will often manage the IT department of an organization while integrating that department into other departments across the organization. A CTO is responsible for the development, engineering and research and development teams, as their focus is on improving the product offerings.

What skills do you need to be a CTO? ›

The Professional Skills a CTO Should Have
  • Business sense. ...
  • Leadership skills. ...
  • Effective communication. ...
  • Decision-making skills. ...
  • Ability to conduct research. ...
  • Strategic thinking skills. ...
  • Time management skills. ...
  • Ability to employ tech talent.

Who does the CTO report too? ›

Although CTOs are also part of the company management, they usually report to the CIO (but may report to the CEO if their organization does not have a CIO).

What is the difference between CTO and head of technology? ›

While the CTO is responsible for overseeing the organization's research and technological advancements, as a whole, the head of engineering is instead responsible for those elements that typically fall within the scope of leading the engineering teams.

Is CTO higher than director? ›

A CTO is a Chief Technology Officer. A CTO sits between the CIO and the IT director and generally acts as a right-hand man to the CIO. A CTO will be involved in a lot of conversations about strategies and planning, but they are also going to be the direct link to the IT staff, help desk, and lead engineers.

What are the top 3 responsibilities of a CTO? ›

In addition to fixing IT-related issues, the CTO is responsible for developing, implementing, managing and evaluating the company's technology resources. The goal of a CTO is to examine short- and long-term needs while using capital to make investments that aid the organization in reaching its goals.

Is CTO a stressful job? ›

Both a technical and strategic executive, a CTO must cope with stress related to leadership and coming from the development teams, the other CxOs, and customers.

What is the average age to become a CTO? ›

8.4% of all chief technology officers are women, while 91.6% are men. The average age of an employed chief technology officer is 51 years old.
Chief Technology Officer Age.
Chief Technology Officer YearsPercentages
30-40 years11%
20-30 years0%
1 more row
Sep 9, 2022


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