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Daniel Doubrovkine

aka dB., @awscloud, former CTO @artsy, +@vestris, NYC

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I don’t think I’ve ever read a CTO job description cover-to-cover. Or seen many good ones. I skimmed over the text, at best.

I get about 5 CTO job descriptions a week. Am I the exception or the norm? I’ve asked around.

  • Did you take your CTO job after seeing a job description?
  • Yes
  • Did you care to read it?
  • No

I’m probably the norm.

A good CTO job description would actually be read and have positive impact on hiring an actual CTO. It seems to be difficult to write a good, generic CTO job description because a CTO at a tiny startup is very different from a CTO at a Fortune 100 company, and so the role varies tremendously with time and context.

Most hiring managers or good recruiters engage with CTO-level candidates in-person, or at least on the phone, attempting to convey the incredible opportunity of working with a company with dramatic and emotional voice-over effect. They may have been building a relationship for years by the time the job becomes available. So many job descriptions are sent as documentation or placeholders, later, for the unlikely event of the job description being shared more broadly.

A quick search of “CTO job descriptions” reveals a staggering lack of imagination, personality or voice. According to some, a CTO must have excellent communication skills, a problem-solving aptitude, mentor team members, and even be proficient at Microsoft Office Suite.

Many CTO job descriptions are kitchen sink descriptions of anything remotely technical, such as IT or maintenance of an internal ERP system. This is often the list of everything that is currently broken or anything that has to do with computers. This makes the breakdown of responsibilities unclear, and the role very confusing.

There’s no clear definition of success, but a lot of responsibilities such as focus on innovation or defining the architecture and technology vision.

Even job descriptions at growth companies tend to assume that a CTO’s career is over and focus entirely on short term problems.

Job descriptions poorly convey critical aspects of a company’s leadership and often misrepresent big problems. This may include lack of trust between the technology team and the rest of the organization, or absence of cohesion or alignment in the executive team and between founder and hires.

Target compensation is unclear or varies with the experience of the candidate. One can’t stop but wonder whether it also varies with the candidate’s gender or origin.

Would would a more thoughtful CTO job description that addresses some of these issues entail?

Multiple colleagues suggested that a CTO job description becomes a pitch deck, similar to the one used for raising funds. It would be thoughtful and include an overview of the company, a proposal tailored to a potential CTO on the opportunity, an overview of the team, current organization and CTO’s ownership, honest and clear set of expectations for the role, objectives to achieve over the next few years and a broad definition of success. The next level of detail would have a perspective on the role from the hiring manager, usually the CEO. Finally, the job would clearly set target compensation and provide a high level breakdown of salary vs. equity.

Without going as far as a deck, I would keep the job description specific. Here’s an example inspired from a recent New York City series A startup. I particularly like this one because it spells clearly that the CTO owns the entire product organization and not just the technology side of it, making it quite attractive and unusual. It focuses entirely inward (public facing aspects of the job beyond reporting to investors are not a priority), doesn’t mention IT (that’s not part of the job), and calls out the role of Data Protection Officer (important because of the kind of business and new regulations).

You are a strong team player that sees the big picture and gets hands on when necessary. A background in product is required as you will oversee the entire Product, Design and Engineering organization through the next 24 months of the company’s expected trajectory of exponential growth.

As the CTO you will:

  • Direct strategic technical vision for the company and anticipate, plan and act on shifts in technology.
  • Be responsible for the delivery of all software, including velocity and quality, and own the product roadmap.
  • Manage, coach, engage, and motivate the current team of a VP of Engineering, Head of Product, Head of Design and 15 individual contributors across this organization.
  • Own recruiting and retention in the Product, Design and Engineering organization and double its size over the next 18 months.
  • Act as Data Protection Officer and be responsible for the security and privacy of our customers.
  • Communicate the progress of the Product, Engineering and Design organization to the company Board and its investors.

A great candidate has:

  • A proven track record of leadership in areas of technology and product.
  • A maker spirit and a consistent history of delivering results with software over the past 7-10 years.
  • A clear vision of what a successful Product, Design and Engineering organization looks like and how to achieve it.
  • A broad set of interests that include a significant overlap with the company’s vision and mission.

Target compensation for this role is $220K with a meaningful stock options package, usual medical and dental benefits and a company matched 401K.

Thanks to the New York CTO club for early feedback.