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CTO vs. VP of Engineering

My talk presented with @jasonh at #monkigras. Update: video is at

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CTO vs. VP of Engineering

  1. CTO vs. VP of Engineering:Whatʼs the Difference?(And does it matter?)Jason Hoffman Bryan CantrillCTO VP, @bcantrill
  2. The genesis of this talk2
  3. CTO vs. VP of Engineering • In many startups especially, the difference between a CTO and VP of Engineering becomes blurry • There is often enough overlap that one person can do both jobs when the company is tiny... • ...but as a team expands, the need for distinct roles grows • One is not necessarily subservient to the other — both roles are critical and they must work as a team • What are these roles?3
  4. CTO? • The CTO is the Chief Technology Officer, and in a startup, will likely be the technical co-founder • The CTO establishes the vision and culture • The CTO must be as technical as required to validate the vision and the culture • Beyond this, the CTO is (or should be) largely outward facing — the CTO should understand the relationship between the technology and the larger world • As a company grows and expands, the CTO will be at a crossroads: become the VP of Engineering and hire a CTO, or remain the CTO and hire a VP of Engineering4
  5. VP of Engineering? • The Vice President of Engineering is responsible for the development and delivery of the product • Critically, this includes the recruitment of the team • Should be the exemplar of engineering • Should be an engineer that the team feels comfortable looking to on a wide range of technical problems5
  6. So who innovates? • Neither the CTO nor the VP of Engineering is singularly responsible for innovation; they most foster it together • They must create a culture (CTO) and a team (VP of Engineering) that is empowered to think big • Both CTO and VP of Engineering must — as a team — embrace ideas, explore them and expand upon them • The CTO must communicate them upward and outward • The VP of Engineering must distill them into shipping product or functional system6
  7. Anti-patterns • Because the specifics of the roles can vary significantly from company to company, itʼs hard to prescribe one “right” way to divide the CTO from VP of Engineering • Easier to define the wrong way • There are particular anti-patterns for these two roles that seem to represent common failure modes • Broadly, CTOs fail when they think that they are engineers, not communicators; VPs of Engineering fail when they think they are managers of people, not creators of useful things7
  8. CTO Anti-pattern: The Critic8
  9. VPoE Anti-pattern: The Process Queen9
  10. CTO Anti-pattern: The Control Freak10
  11. VPoE Anti-pattern: The No-Op11
  12. CTO Anti-pattern: The Xenophobe12
  13. VPoE Anti-pattern: The Upward Manager13
  14. CTO Anti-pattern: The Creator14
  15. VPoE Anti-pattern: The Cat Herder15
  16. CTO Anti-pattern: The Space Ranger16
  17. VPoE Anti-pattern: The Naysayer17
  18. Thank you! @jasonh @bcantrill18