CTO vs. VP of Engineering: Which Do You Need?

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Every tech business should have their own Chief Technology Officer (CTO). They can be a valuable asset for growing a business within the technology industry. This industry is also fast-paced and requires highly adaptable individuals. CTOs in particular need to keep up with current aspects while looking even further.

What’s the difference between a CTO and VP of engineering?

A Vice President of engineering works with the framework of a business. They handle the technical functionality elements to ensure each person is completing his or her assigned role. CTOs, however, look long-term. Future opportunities, predictions for sales, upcoming product designs, and more are some of the things CTOs are focused on. You could see a VP of engineering as an important cog in the business machine and CTOs are the pieces that protect the cogs.

How do you know which one you need?

Generally, a CTO’s long-term mentality could be called ‘third horizon thinking’. The ‘first horizon’ would be the current issues a business is facing. A ‘second horizon’ is the upcoming projects a business is about to begin. VPs of engineering would take their place here. Lastly, the ‘third horizon’ plans for the future.

CTOs almost always have a history of extensive experience in the technological industry. This is because knowing the infrastructure of businesses, successfully planning for a business’s future, and understanding commonalities within the industry is often best learned through experience. To be clear, a CTO should certainly possess a high level of technical skills. Both positions are important to a business and must employ individuals who can shoulder significant responsibilities.

Do You Really Need a CTO?

The most important questions to ask regarding yourself or anyone within the company to be considered for the role of CTO is whether or not the qualifications and skillset is there. Is the person a creative, forward-thinker? Does the person know about current technologies? Are they looking for the next big thing that can benefit the business? If the answer to all three of these is yes, the person is CTO-material. If they answer no to them, a CTO should be hired.

Say, for example, a CTO is needed. The next step could lead to the debate between a promotion or job shift within the business or hiring someone beyond the business. Consider any talent or exceptional individual inside the company first. They are likely to be more respected and accepted quickly to a higher position. Bringing in an external CTO is a bit tricky, on the other hand. To avoid uncertainty or distrust, involve the other employees that CTO would be working with into the hiring process.

The Outcome

Whether a CTO (or VP of engineering) is truly needed, understanding their roles in a business could save time and issues down the road. These positions serve important purposes to keep things running smoothly. A current corporate focus is also just as significant as a future one. Evaluate these elements on a regular basis and transitions, no matter how complex, will become easier to manage with the right employees.