Many startups want to know how to build their engineering team. Many non-technical startup founders find it hard to accurately define the terms “CTO” and “VP of Engineering.” Understanding the basics is helpful if you want to gain an understanding of these roles and how they can work in your growing business.
Here is some background on these critical job roles and their basics responsibilities.
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The Chief Technology Officer
In order to get your tech business off the ground, you need a seasoned engineer to act as lead architect. Such a person is often referred to in the industry as a “rockstar,” and if you’ve ever worked with someone like this, you know the description is accurate. Unless you have a person who is strategizing the development of your technology, it’s going to be hard, if not impossible, to reach your company’s full potential. Having a tech guru on your team is quite beneficial. He or she will play a crucial role in putting your ideas on track to succeed.
The most important thing you will look for in them is that they are on the cutting edge of technology trends and understand the industry as a whole. They have a clear understanding of various frameworks such as Spring, Hibernate, Lucene, Cassandra, and Hadoop. Choosing between MySQL and Postgres should be an easy decision. Programming languages should be second nature, and they should have an instinct for which is the right one to grow with your product. If you have someone who can maneuver these tough decisions in the early days of your startup, you will be in great shape going forward. You cannot build a skyscraper without the help of an experienced engineer as they are the ones who provide you with the infrastructure on which everything else depends.
Things That Set Them Apart
An interesting way of thinking about it is that technologists are almost like artists. Like many artists, they are unpredictable, can suffer from stormy moods, work erratically (but, of course, they’ll get done what they need to do, even if it means working right up to the deadline), and they refuse to submit the necessary documentation. In other words, these types of creatives make horrible managers and should not be given a leadership role–and most often they wouldn’t want a leadership role!
You might also have some confusion about the difference between a CTO and a “chief architect.” The only difference of any significance is how much experience they have. CTOs have a proven track record and a wide range of experience, while chief architects are often just starting out..
In general, you want your CTOs and chief architects to be exacting. You need them to be sticklers and unrelenting in their pursuit of a vision in order for your product to develop as best as possible. The attitude toward quality that your CTO or chief architect has will set the tone for the whole team, so you want them to be committed to high standards.
VP of Engineering
A VP of engineering is a person who has extensive technical knowledge and experience but prefers the business side to busting out code. He or she is the person who has an aptitude for management, especially of dev teams. VPs of engineering often have expertise in different specialities, be it C++ or Excel, and they also have a general knowledge of technologies from a global view. You’ll want to make sure that your VP of engineering will ensure proper testing, automating many of your quality controls.
You can think of the VPs of engineering as the ones who keep the machine running smoothly. Keeping all the moving parts on schedule and getting the most out of the team is their specialty. VPs of engineering also serve as a liaison between the head of the company and the person in charge of product management. Usually, it is the VP of engineering that you take to meetings with your biggest prospective clients to solidify a deal.
They are the people’s manager. Apart from knowing the technical stuff well, they also understand how to motivate people. They are the type of people who can keep track of preferences, personal issues and individual needs. VPs of engineering know when to hit the gas and ride the team to meet a key deadline and when to put the brakes on and adjust timelines based on the team’s needs. You don’t want your best devs to face burnout on long, complex projects.
A small startup might not require a project manager, but once the company scales up, it’s usually a good idea for you to get one. A project manager will be able to handle various issues that you face once you launch your product, especially if the customers who are paying money for your services are increasing drastically. These are some of the things he or she will be doing:
- Changes the technical documentation when you release new features for your product.
- Takes care of revisions to marketing materials, including the website.
- Trains the customer service representatives on the elements of the new features.
- Assists in rolling new features into overall marketing strategy and market positioning.
If you’ve recently founded a small startup, you will need to have some key people on the team. One person you need to consider is a chief architect. While outsourcing is a good option, sometimes it might not work well for you. Instead of trying to cut corners, it is wise to work closely with a chief architect in-house. Once your team expands to 10-20 people, you should plan on hiring a CTO or VP of Engineering and have him or her report to you directly. Once you acquire a lot of customers and your business has reached the milestone of a significant profit margin, it’s time for you to add a project manager.