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What Does a CTO Do?

I get asked this question a lot: What does a CTO do? As a “rookie CTO” and co-founder of a software company, I even have to ask myself that question from time to time, especially as the company has grown and I have had to adapt. So I have spent some time researching the role, and interviewing several CTOs to get an idea of their responsibilities and day-to-day workflow. Here is what I have found:

After interviewing a dozen or so CTOs at a similar stage or later stage than Weave (~30 million+ ARR and 30+ engineers), there is one thing that stuck out: they all do things a little bit differently. It was actually kind of refreshing to hear there is a flexibility, of sorts, with the role. CTO: Choose your own adventure! :-)

In addition to interviews, I read everything I could find online. Amr Awadallah has a great blog post on what CTOs do. As I was figuring out what my focus should be I relied on this post heavily. In particular the three main roles of the CTO really resonated with me:

The Roles of the CTO

  1. Fiduciary for Long-Term Technical Strategy
  2. Technical Evangelist
  3. Spiritual Leader for the engineers and maintainer of the technical culture

I especially like that last one– Maintainer of the technical culture

After all my research, this is where I settled on dividing up my time:

External Focus (30%)

  • Marketing/Evangelism 10%
  • Help with recruiting top talent 10%
  • Sales/Customers 5%
  • Business Development/Partners 5%

Internal Focus (70%)

  • Engineering culture 25%
  • Engineering operations 20%
  • Long term architecture and technology direction 15%
  • Connecting and working with other departments 10%

Why the internal/external swap? If you read Amr’s post, he actually says CTOs should spend 70% of their time on external things, and 30% internal.

The key difference between my role and the role he outlined was that he specifically was talking about “Enterprise Software CTOs”. Weave builds products for SMBs, with a direct focus on the “S” or small businesses. That means we aren’t closing million dollar accounts where I need to go rub shoulders with CTOs at potential customers.

Another difference is that we don’t have teams of PhDs solving cutting edge or “hard” technical problems. We aren’t on the fringes of machine learning, or curing cancer (that would be awesome). That means we don’t have a patent portfolio to manage (I despise most software patents).

When you are marketing to small businesses, the strategy aligns a lot closer to a consumer software company. This means the “speed” of the product engineering department is one of, if not THE, most critical thing to focus on.

I recently read the book Accelerate (not an affiliate link), which only hammered this point home by backing it up with real data. Culture and devops are the single biggest drivers of high performing technology companies. So I have opted to own those things at Weave. In fact, the devops team reports up to me instead of the VP of Engineering.

For more details on how we divide up all the technology roles at Weave, check out this google doc: Roles of Technology and Product Leaders at Weave

It also has links to many sources of inspiration at the bottom.