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The Five Flavors of Being a CTO

This post lists the key insights from this article, from the CEO & Co-Founder of Koan.


What exactly is the CTO role? The author finds it useful to break it into five flavors, split between an external and internal focus:

External flavors

1- Evangelist:

You’re the key spokesperson in promoting a technology vision to the world. You speak at conferences, talk to press, and have myriad social media followers.

2- Super Sales Engineer

You’re the ultimate weapon in winning over new customers: able to talk about your company’s products, technology and roadmap with a depth and vision that nobody else can match.

Internal flavors

3- Super Engineer

You’re a prolific and accomplished coder. You define the architecture and lead innovation by example.

4- People Leader

You manage the engineering team, and in special cases the product and design teams as well. You’re constantly recruiting new talent and mentoring existing employees.

5- Innovator/Disruptor

You’re constantly on the hunt for the “next big thing”, whether it’s a new technology or a new product.

How to reposition yourself into a role that makes more sense

Maybe your CEO has kicked off one of the slightly awkward “let’s talk about what’s next for you and how to make you more successful” conversations (I’ve had a few of those, for the record). So now what?   To reset your role into something that makes more sense, the author suggests the following:

  1. Use the five flavors as a framework for discussing with your CEO and the rest of the exec team what your role should encompass. 
  2. Be honest with yourself about your existing skills, what you are most passionate about learning next, and most importantly what the company needs from you.
  3. Agree to an internal vs. external balance for your version of CTO. It’s challenging to mix the two and they require very different skills, so it’s important to be clear. I even talked to TechCrunch about this topic.
  4. Make your role changes proactively vs. waiting until things break or until you’re miserable by re-assessing every two years.
  5. Ask for feedback, both inside your company as well as from other CTOs.
2 min​ read

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