“CTOs need to be skilled communicators, especially on the listening side”
We spoke to Miles Ward, Chief Technology Officer at SADA, about what makes a great CTO. What soft skills does a CTO need to excel? Have the requirements changed recently? Miles gives advice for any aspiring, or current, Chief Technology Officer on how to further their career.
JAXenter: What traits actually make up a great CTO?
Miles Ward: You certainly need to be a voracious learner; I know of few teams eager to hire a Chief Yesterday’s Technology Officer. It’s one thing to anticipate what’s next, but what about the step after that?
You also need to be a wise investor; there are a million things you could do, which ones should you? A CTO could be an incredible developer or manager, and would fail if they ran off to build the wrong thing, or didn’t know when to change directions given changing conditions.
You definitely need to be a compelling leader; learning enough to know what to do next (the first two) is good, but what if you can’t get anyone else to come along? Communications skills are a part of it certainly, but beyond that; are you building great teams? Are you setting up your folks for success and growing talent? Are you inspiring customers and partners to come on the journey? It’s critical to be able to inspire confidence in your company’s ability to deliver the right things for our customers, but also know that you really mean it – having what it takes in other parts of the company to deliver that exceptional, transformation experience is key.
JAXenter: What’s first among the roles and responsibilities of a CTO?
Miles Ward: It’s all in the title; as much as the “T” part is important, foremost needs to be your responsibilities as a Chief Officer. That means answering to your stakeholders (fellow members of the leadership team, or the board, or investors; not to mention folks on your team) for the performance of the initiatives under your purview.
JAXenter: What soft skills every CTO should have?
Miles Ward: CTOs need to be skilled communicators, especially on the listening side: so many opportunities exist in the nuances of what our teams, customers, partners, and competitors say or write.
CTOs need to be imaginative and creative: none of the problems we approach are easy or straight-forward, and basic reactions don’t yield breakthrough results.
CTOs need to be empathetic: we’ve all been the overloaded engineer, the ignored customer, the blocked creative, and the frustrated operator: if we’re empathetic, we’ll work tirelessly to make our products predictable, attentive, inspiring, and easy to use.
JAXenter: How have the requirements for hard skills for the CTO changed recently?
Miles Ward: There’s a Cambrian explosion of tech, and so there’s a thousand and one new tech niches where expertise and vision is desperately needed. At the same time, it’s always getting easier to learn, and the opportunity unlocked by even the next single step in many fields can be very significant. Rather than hewing to formal credentials, certifications, and experience, I see most teams looking much more closely at fit (for the stage of company, for the market situation, for the perceived next critical actions) than at any specific set of hard skills.
JAXenter: Why does CTO decide to outsource software development?
Miles Ward: CTOs are creative problem solvers; if they’re listening closely and being empathetic to the needs of their teams, partners, and customers, they’ll want every resource available to make a positive impact. Outsourcing software development can be about risk management, resource availability and allocation, specialization, or just sound business decision making.
JAXenter: What pain points does every CTO have?
Miles Ward: There is never too much talent, aligned and urgent to the best opportunities, operating safely and efficiently, ever. There is never too much just in time, accurate data – the systems are slow, and everything costs too much. Our ability to tell the future remains frustratingly error prone. It remains impossible to read 1000 pages an hour. And invariably, someone out there is working to solve for these constraints with a few extra brain cells and a superior cup of coffee.