Mashing up feedback from Fred and Mark and remembering that this is for startups with less than 10 people, not for corporates (or startups staffed by corporate-denizens):
A CTO is ideally the strongest technologist in the organization. He or she will be an architect, a thinker, a researcher, a tester and a tinkerer. The CTO is often the technical co-founder if there is one (and you know I think there must be one). And, if the tech cofounder is young, they are the Chief Architect, not the CTO
A VP Engineering is ideally a great manager and a great team builder. He or she will be an excellent recruiter, a great communicator, and a great issue resolver. The VP Eng’s job is to make everyone in the engineering organization successful and he or she needs to fix the issues that are getting in the way of success.
- Set the vision and direction of the company.
- Hire and retain the best talent you can find.
- Make sure there is always money in the bank
CTO Infrastructure Manager – In companies where the role of the CIO becomes too complex, the CTO takes on the responsibilities for infrastructure and IT operations: data center operations, network operations, application development and maintenance, security, and other line functions. The CIO retains the responsibility for how technology is actually used within the organization. This is mainly a model used in traditional businesses where IT is in a pure support role.
Technology Visionary and Operations Manager – This pattern is usually found in dot.com and other technology-oriented companies where information technology is key ingredient in implementing business strategy. The CTO is responsible for determining how technology can be used to implement the business strategy. This is the ‘technology visionary’ aspect of the role. But then subsequently, the CTO is responsible for actually integrating and running the technology, i.e. the role of the ‘operations manager.’ In this pattern the CTO is often a co-founder of the business, or one of the first hires.
External Facing Technologist – We see this model often in companies where technology is used to provide products and services to customers and partners; the CTO is the intermediary between clients and internal development and the main influencer in the development of the product portfolio. The CTO is in constant contact with key customers and is prominently involved in market research. Some of the larger software companies have successfully used this model with multiple CTOs who are seasoned technology experts and whose main task it is to be the bridge to customers. A number of CTOs of software companies in the middleware space have also described the customer contact as their main activity.
Big Thinker – The CTOs in this model mainly spend their time evaluating how technology can be used internally to developed new business models and business lines, and how to preempt competitor’s attempts to use technology to disrupt the markets. This CTO’s responsibilities often include advanced technology, competitive analysis, technology assessment, prototyping lab, partnering, planning, and architecture standards
- Expert communicators, deal makers, and managers
- Extroverts who are eager to go out on the road and tell their company's story
- Individuals who are able and willing to present a cohesive vision and strategy to employees
- Individuals who are decisive, adaptable and forward-looking.