Earlier this year, David Levine’s Chief Technology Officer tendered his resignation, leaving the CEO of Digital Bridge, a Manchester, U.K.-based firm that uses artificial intelligence to help people design homes, without a tech lead. Fortunately, he knew what he wanted from a CTO, so the search didn’t take long.
“I wanted someone who wouldn’t get too bogged down in the details, even though it is a very technical role,” he says. “They need to be able to talk to their team, get opinions from their team, and make the right call. It’s also important that they fit into our company culture.”
While he ended up promoting someone from within the firm, the task of finding the right CTO, and then creating the right technology team, can make or break a business. In today’s business environment, your technology lead must be a difference maker in your company or organization.
These days, technology teams handle a variety of issues, including cybersecurity, software and hardware purchases, proprietary software development, and more. That’s why it’s critical for companies to build a top-notch tech group. “If you don’t, then you’ve lost months of work and have to go through the process again,” he says.
What can you do to make sure you’re hiring the right CTO and building the best team? Start by focusing on what you need--and follow these five tips.
1. Think Carefully About What You Want
With so many areas of tech, there’s no one-size-fits-all team anymore. Think about what you want your tech-focused staff to do, says Jerry Fralick, Chief Security Officer with Lenovo. For insurance companies, collecting and securing big data is important. Service businesses may want someone who can use technology to drive efficiencies. “You have to look at your business model first and then bring in the people who can help you depending on your needs,” he says.
2. Insist on Experience
A couple of decades ago, anyone with a computer would have been qualified to be a CTO. Now, tech executives need to have the right certifications, like a Certified Information Security Manager or a Certified Information Systems Security Professional, as well as experience working on a tech team, says Fralick. He suggests looking for people who have worked in the public sector, in higher education, or at Fortune 500 companies. “These people know how to deal with big budgets and boards of directors, and they can be a champion within an organization,” he says.
3. Find a Partner
Whether you’re hiring a CTO or a Chief Information Officer--in larger companies, the CIO oversees the CTO and is involved in more strategic planning--you’ll need someone who can become a trusted confidant and partner. “While the CEO may have the vision, the CTO is the one who, in many cases, will have to execute on it,” says Tom Berray, a managing partner with Cabot, a McLean, Virginia-based executive search firm. “You don’t have to agree on everything, but you have to be partners who share a vision and strategy,” he says.
4. Let the Tech Lead Pick the Team
Your new CTO or CIO should be the one choosing their team. However, you’ll need to work with him or her to decide what kinds of people are needed. While the size of a team will depend on the company, Fralick says a team of eight is not uncommon in small-to-medium-size operations. You’ll want someone who knows security, someone who can oversee a business’s software and hardware needs, an innovation officer who can work with customers, and project managers to keep things running. Teams should also be diverse, from a race and gender perspective, says Levine. “People must be empowered to say we should be doing things a certain way,” he says.
5. Keep Your Team Engaged
Once the team is hired, you’ll have to put them to work. That likely won’t be a problem, but you should think about what they’ll do when they come on board, says Fralick. Some may be tasked with ensuring every computer is up and running, others will be protecting your business from a cyberattack. Work with the CIO or the CTO--whoever’s in charge--to manage everyone. “The [tech lead] has to be cognizant of how much things cost and get money to keep the lights on or to make improvements,” he says. “The whole team needs to be involved.”
Perhaps, most important, business owners need to make sure they’re hiring a team they trust. Levine wants to be meeting clients and selling his product, not working on the tech itself. If he knows his team is doing their part, then he can do his. “I need to be comfortable knowing that I can deliver on what I’m saying,” he says. “And, when something happens, we can come up with a tech solution that’s right.”
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