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Our company runs an online photo sharing application, letting users edit pictures, create slideshows, share them on blogs and social networks and so on. The company is small, roughly 15 people, with a technical staff of 5, 3 seniors and 2 interns, with another intern coming soon. Our CEO is also the head of the marketing team.

We had a CTO until August 2009. When our CTO left, the company was having financial issues, and it was decided not to hire another CTO immediately. The technical staff (only the 3 seniors at the time) decided, between them, what to do.

Without a CTO, we have trouble getting some decisions to be taken by the CEO. This has created some issues on technical level, like quality problems in the infrastructure and code base.

My question is: how do we improve this situation? Should we insist on hiring another CTO which would have a hard time integrating and gaining legitimacy (I designed and created the whole server application. I will not let anybody explain to me how I have to do my job)?

  • Why do you need the CEO to make the decisions? – Mark Phillips Feb 22 '11 at 14:27
  • Somebody will have to decide to spend the time and the money. Rather the CEO or a CTO. – Alexis Dufrenoy Feb 22 '11 at 14:36
  • If you had the authorization to spend time and money, could your team come to a consensus decision? – Mark Phillips Feb 22 '11 at 15:05
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    From joelonsoftware.com/articles/fog0000000072.html, " - every decision is made by the person with the most information". The company should let the team to make decision on technical level, like quality problems in the infrastructure and code base as you mentioned. – Johnny Feb 22 '11 at 15:33
  • @Mark Philips: yeah, sure. – Alexis Dufrenoy Feb 22 '11 at 16:07
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  • Promote yourself, or someone from your team, to be the decision maker.
  • Pitch your CEO on having a defined budget for IT (can be annual, quarterly, etc.)
  • Make some decisions, spend accordingly and take ownership of the decisions and outcomes.
  • Promoting one of the seniors, me or one of the two others, is one of the thing I would like to avoid. The equilibrium between us is just fine as it is, and my fear is to make things worse trying to make them better. Having our CEO to define a budget for IT is a good idea, I think. I will give it some thoughts and discuss it with the others in order to have an organized proposal for our CEO. – Alexis Dufrenoy Feb 22 '11 at 16:15
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    I understand your trepidation in upsetting the balance. But this seems like one of those cases where there's a leadership vacuum that needs to be filled since its hindering the company's ability to move forward. – Mark Phillips Feb 22 '11 at 16:59
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A full time CTO could be overkill, but the reality is that you have not been able to communicate effectively to the CEO your needs. You have not provided detail about what has been provided to the CEO, but my first instinct is that you have not given him/her a business reason that you want to make an improvement. Based on what you have said, there are likely dead ends in the code that need to be remediated and these will keep your company from being able to expand. This is typically the type of information that needs to be communicated to C-Level. Tell them what it's costing them in time and money, what they would save by making the changes and/or what they can't do, but would be able to if they made the change.

A CTO should have one foot in the business and be able to understand and convert your needs to a language that will get the resources. On the flip side a good CTO will also be able to explain WHY (e.g. no money available) you may not be getting the resources you believe you need.

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Leaders don't need titles. You don't need a CTO. CTO is just a fancy term that is usually given to a company founder who has a technical background. The person has skills and most likely built half of the infrastructure single-handedly, but if that person left, then no one can fill that role. You can't create another company founder in a company that's already been founded. You can give someone that title, if you really want to, but they're not going to be the previous CTO.

EHow does have a job description, but the position varies so much from company to company. This CTO Job Description will give you an idea of the CTO's role.

Also, read How to Become a Chief Technology Officer. Note the key responsibilities include the words "strategic".

You say the problem is in the code? That's not a CTO problem. The CTO doesn't dictate code quality or take part in such low level issues. That's the teams' domain. That involves "tactical" management.

You do need a leader, it just doesn't need to be a 6 figure high-paid executive. Why don't you try stepping into that role? Don't give yourself the title though, just fill the need. Leaders don't need titles.

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I will not let anybody explain to me how I have to do my job

If a CTO says so terminate his/her contract immediately.

Besides that I would suggest to focus on documents not people (CTO or whoever it is). Your problem is that you don't have a clear architecture/design documentation, and source code quality requirements. In order to get back on track you should invest your time (or time of someone else, maybe a part-time CTO) into technical documentation.

  • It's clear in my mind what needs to be done (rather a continuous integration process than technical documentation, at this point), but it's more difficult to get across the table to the CEO. That's where a CTO could be useful, imho. – Alexis Dufrenoy Feb 22 '11 at 12:37
  • Continuous integration (together with proper static code analysis) is always better than static documentation, you're right. I agree that a CTO could play an important role of a "message deliverer". But, as you see, can can't replace CI and documentation. – yegor256 Feb 22 '11 at 12:55
  • Yeah, I'm trying out some static analysis tools like Sonar, CodePro, PMD, FindBugs and others. It's pretty neat to find potential bugs without looking for them! But we just went off-topic, I think... – Alexis Dufrenoy Feb 22 '11 at 16:18

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