The End Of The Fake CTO

  • Posted: 30.10.23

There has been a rise of Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) joining early stage start-ups. However, over the years the responsibilities of what is expected of a CTO have become slightly muddled, with expectations of both client and candidate not always aligning.

So, is it time to end the CTO title and make way for the Founding Engineer?

CTO’s relationship with start-ups

With any tech based project, you obviously need someone to build out the product for you. But many start-ups may not be able to afford the expertise of a seasoned CTO who has many years of experience.

In order to mitigate this problem, start-ups tend to seek help from talented candidates that don’t have as many years’ experience but are equipped to be able to build a product from scratch. Usually they look for someone that has full stack experience, who will be able to deliver the back and front end code of a project.

As this role still requires candidates to have some experience, knowing what title to offer has always been somewhat ambiguous. And more often than not, brands have landed on the CTO title as this has felt the most appropriate at the time.

However, as start-ups begin to grown and receive significant rounds of funding, most of the time brands require someone with a little more experience to lead the strategy, development and growth of a product and team.

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Why the title, CTO, can be problematic for start-ups

Now, don’t get us wrong, we’re not saying that candidates who have less experience are incapable of building a successful product. But the title CTO can be problematic and lead to a number of issues in the long run.

The expectation for the company vs. that of the candidate/employee is more than likely to be different based on the job title alone.

CTO’s are usually hired when the company needs someone to lead the strategy and vision of the product and aren’t normally required to build/code the product itself.

Whereas, in the early stages of a start-up, you’ll want someone who is a generalist engineer wanting to still be hands on in their approach.

So when it comes to the point in a company’s journey when they need someone more strategic to come onboard, there could be a conflict with the existing CTO.

So what’s the solution?

A new era – The Founding Engineer

Enter the era of the Founding Engineer.

The title Founding Engineer encompasses everything start-ups want from their first engineering hire, as they will be the person to shape the beginnings of the product and engineering team.

Ultimately, their role is to write code and deliver the product to market, whilst also implementing the processes and project managing the development.

It’s a title that suits both the company and the employee. For the company it provides flexibility and room to continue to grow the team/brand in an sustainable way.

For the candidate/employee, it provides the opportunity to take ownership of a product, elevate their skillset and drive initial product growth.

What skills does a Founding Engineer need?

There are certain skills that Founding Engineers require as they’ll be required to do a bit of both strategy and delivery.

Companies will need someone with an entrepreneurial mindset, that’s potentially worked in start-ups previously and understands the ins and outs of growing a product.

Founding Engineers will need to be able to work autonomously, quickly and efficiently, especially in the early stages of start-up when there are tight deadlines to get the product to market and satisfy the VCs.

Finally, they need to be able to wear multiple hats at all times – employees need to be skilled in front end, back end, devops to be able to fulfil this role.

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