How do I direct my career to become a CTO? #Careeradvice #CTO


If you have decided that your career goal is to become a CTO, one of the things we spoke about in the previous post is that only 1 in 30 engineers have the opportunity to do so.

If you look at the pipeline above, (these are rough numbers I got (via LinkedIn) by searching for Developers (Satista), Software Managers, Directors and CTO. While not accurate, they are directionally right.

There are some caveats to this data.

I agree that a) it is not a perfect pipeline – i.e. not every one who is a developer wants to become a CTO, b) most people dont go through a straight line in terms of career growth and c) 29 million developers in 2020, is much larger than 10 million in 2010 or 5 million in 2000, when most of the 1 Million CTO’s started their careers.

One of the things that I enjoyed about working at Amazon was a mechanism called “Working backwards”, or what Steven Covey called “Begin with an end in mind”. Applying that mechanism to one’s career is a very interesting use case and an effective one that I recommend.

If you want to work backwards from “becoming a CTO” to currently “am an engineer”, then we start with the definition of what all is needed to be in that role.

The working backwards mechanism has 3 components:

a) Define the requirements with metrics to measure,

b) put a plan that shows how to achieve those requirements over time and

c) measure and track towards the plan monthly, quarterly and annually.

The top 5 requirements & metrics that qualify a person for that role are:

  1. A body of work that shows the ability to solve complex business and technical problems with technology solutions, as measured by the impact of those products in terms of revenue and customers.
  2. A proven ability to communicate (written, spoken) technical challenges with customers, employees, and media in a simple, concise way as measured by the number of documents (articles, papers) and speaking engagements.
  3. A history of being able to attract high quality talent and build and develop high performance teams as measured by the size of the teams and the current roles of the individuals they hired before.
  4. A willingness to build trust with other executives (sales, marketing, etc.) and help align on objectives to generate outcomes for the company as measured by the business impact (revenue, profit) of the companies they were a part of.
  5. An ability to “see around the corners” and spot technical trends that will impact customers as measured by the new products introduced to market by the individual and the market impact of those products.

There are other subjective criteria as well, but what I have observed is that when two candidates are close on these requirements and there is little to choose between them, other factors – personal relationship / chemistry with the CEO, industry specific knowledge or expertise and brand of the individual become more important.

Now that we have the 5 requirements and a high-level overview of how to measure them, the next step is to put a plan in place and then track to the plan each quarter and every year.

I will try to outline a version of a plan in the next few posts.