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A Chief Technology Officer (CTO) is a position crucial for any modern startup/company related to IT and software services. This is someone who will erect your technology infrastructure, manage tool and teams, outline strategies and approaches according to business goals. CTO is a key planner, strategist, and communicator.
A brief summary of a CTO’s actual responsibilities are: maintaining control over the whole workflow, understanding needs, and technologies of the moment, oversight, planning, and security. It seems that this is someone who works for a company as a full-time employee. Though with the trend of omnipresent outsourcing, a simple question arises – can you outsource a CTO as well?
A short answer is yes, you can.
The CTO outsourcing model
There’s actually a niche for CTO outsourcing on the market with services like ctooutsourcing.com, outsourcedcto.co.za, and lots of other companies and individuals working to help non-technical people grow their business. Under such services, you would be provided with a qualified technical officer as a CTO-as-a-service model.
An outsourced CTO position typically acts to manage your company’s technologies, engineers, IT support and tech partners, to conduct due diligence operations. Having a CTO is also helpful in identifying cybersecurity risks (can’t be overstated in our era) and complying with all existing regulations. He/she can work part-time, full-time or on an hourly basis, allowing additional flexibility for your decisions.
This model seems to be quite well fitting the demand, as most small and midsize companies do not require a permanent CTO, but rather benefit from temporary leadership and technical supervision over certain software development cycles or developer teams. Additionally, CTO outsourcing is less costly than hiring a full-time expert.
So it appears you CAN outsource a CTO, but the question is probably – SHOULD you? Let’s review the common concerns on the issue.
Views in favor of outsourcing a CTO
The strongest vote in favor of CTO outsourcing is the experience…real human acquired experience, which you can not recreate or substitute with other people and/or actions. When you need an unbiased view, a fresh perspective, and a person with specific skills in both technical and business areas, a CTO would be very helpful.
Overall, benefits of CTO-as-a-service include:
- Ensuring your tech strategy is aligned with business targets;
- ICT (information and communication technology) review and analysis, concrete advice to increase productivity;
- Aid in decision making for stakeholders, provide advice on technical issues;
- Professional delivery of technology initiatives, installing risk-reducing operations;
- Defining a ‘roadmap’ for your business years ahead;
- Providing project delivery management and help in hiring proper people;
- Cost-reduction in recruitment (compared to an in-house employee) and IT operations;
- Informed planning of annual IT budgets;
- Improvement of communication between management and developer teams.
What you should look for, obviously, is a real-world CTO with a proven background, not some “Insert_name” company with generic information. Also, remember that the goal is to find a manager who can decide, not just advise.
Views against outsourcing a CTO
For non-programmers and business people lacking technical knowledge, it is natural to hire a third-party consultant or agency to help bring their idea to life. The argument of those who are skeptical of outsourcing is that if you need a CTO, you have to hire him/her as a full-time in-house employee, working solely for you, and not outsource it for a period of time.
Basically, this is an expert who should be closely tied to a project/product – it should be their child, metaphorically speaking. Someone who devotes all their time and efforts to bring it to success, not someone who comes in for few months, helps get from point A to point B, collects the money and leaves.
Generally, the following downsides of outsourcing CTO are:
- Technical execution is not enough, you need a business perspective as well to ensure you build a product that is going to be actually used by people;
- Fewer chances for regular iterations testing out new ideas or implementing updates, because when outsourcing you want to save the budget, and thus conduct only critical tasks;
- Scaling up will be tough on cost and efforts, as you’d have to bring in new employees to add new features, let them learn the codebase and all the stuff, and there’s no guarantee it will work out smoothly in the end;
- Your project won’t be a priority for any outsourced CTO, unless you throw really big money at them, and that significantly decreases your chances against competitors who are more dedicated;
- No passion, no interest, no dedication – just a business transaction.
Surely, hiring a good CTO based on having the idea about a certain product will not be easy. Research, learning, looking at the competition, validating the idea, talking to different people, building prototypes/mockups, offering a stake in company’s future may help convince them to join your team.
The qualities of a top CTO
With all of the above in mind, if you do want to outsource a CTO position, you want the best person, of course. You might not have heard as much about top CTOs in the business, as much as household names like Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos. But all of the big names in modern tech, like Uber, Snapchat, Hubspot, Amazon and hundreds of others gained success, in big part, thanks to strategies put in place by CTOs.
What professional qualities of a CTO should you look up to? First of all, leadership and ambition, for sure. Someone with vision, with charisma, with the ability to hire and manage a team, and lead with determination.
Product sense is absolutely key for a CTO, meaning that he/she should have the knowledge, the feeling of what product to create rather than how to implement something. Think of the vision to use React JS to build Instagram instead of just knowing React.js, as an example.
After product sense is intelligence and imagination, to both solve emerging problems and generate new ideas or perspective, especially in the startup sphere, where almost all, more or less, relevant business ideas have been probed. Yet, a good CTO is there to find ways to create something new and useful.
Both determination and flexibility at the same time, for sure. In any business environment, and especially for new companies, there will be many obstacles, and a CTO’s task is to persevere and reach the essential goals. But also, this kind of top manager should be able to adapt to highly volatile conditions, follow all the trends and basically be ready to make 180-degree turns whenever necessary.
And finally (and I know, it could be too much to ask), try to find a CTO who would be committed to your project fully. You don’t want someone who works on five different projects simultaneously, trust me.
This article is a part of Handbook:The Complete Guide to Software Development Outsourcing
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