What makes a top chief technology officer? Experts share their tips

From cultivating a culture of collaboration, to having a brain for business, CTOs from Uber, Nominet, Dell and Transport for London share their views on how to master the role.

Be aware of industry trends

Simon McCalla, chief technology officer, Nominet

“The best chief technology officers (CTOs) must combine strong interpersonal and influencing skills with an empathetic, listening ear. They need the ability to help others understand the sometimes complex role of technology and the challenges it presents, as well as being able to provide the best solutions to the problems facing the business.

“They also need to have a brain for business. Companies are looking to their CTOs to provide products and services that the market needs. With more and more consumers using digital channels, the market will expect different types of product or service, such as a better mobile commerce platform.

“To do this well, a CTO must have a keen eye on the future and be hyper-sensitive to new developments. They must monitor and analyse the business or consumer trends that could affect their market.”

Cultivate a culture of teamwork

Thuan Pham, chief technology officer, Uber


“CTOs need to constantly adapt and be able to course-correct. In hyper-growth start-ups such as ours, what got us here will not necessary get us to the next level. We are always thinking of creative ways to solve problems, challenge assumptions and be situationally aware, so that we can constantly [change things] and provide the best products and services possible.

“A CTO has to be willing to set a very high standard and push themselves and their team beyond its limitations. That’s the only way people and organisations get stronger and better. This can be done by cultivating a culture of teamwork. All the largest and greatest achievements are the result of great teamwork.

“When you move fast and innovate at scale for a global audience, mistakes and setbacks are inevitable. It’s critical that leadership creates an environment of trust, where people work well with each other and put the success of the team ahead of self-interest.”

Avoid silos

Shashi Verma, chief technology officer, Transport for London

“The role of a CTO is to keep up with constantly evolving indsutry changes. They must understand how these changes can benefit customers and help drive their introduction across the organisation. Many companies take siloed attitudes to technology, investing in one system for one part of the company and a different one for another.


“This results in lots of legacy systems spread across the organisation – and rising costs to keep them operational. A CTO must be able to understand legacy technology and exercise leadership to make changes to it.

“When the Oyster Card was launched in 2003, it was world leading. However, almost immediately after launch, we looked at ways of improving it. This led us to develop a ticketing system that enables you to use a contactless bank card to travel. It launched across London in 2014.

“A CTO’s ability to disrupt an organisation can be key to ensuring that it stays ahead of the technology curve.”

Be business minded

Rob Lamb, chief technology officer, UK and Ireland, Dell EMC

“While technical skills are not the most important element to being a good CTO, you do need to have expertise in system architecture, programming and, if appropriate, software design. Similarly, you don’t need to be an expert in all the IT tools your company uses, but you do need to have knowledge of the types of services on offer.

“A CTO’s key skill is to be able understand complex technical concepts and simplify and communicate them to a broad business audience, both verbally and in presentations to the board and IT team.

“A great CTO thinks about the product before the code. In other words, they don’t rush to implement things, but explore the value that the product or solution will bring to the company. To do that, they have to understand the business – how key processes work and how technology underpins and can improve it.

“Ultimately, they have to be able to bridge technology and business.”

(Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/connect/better-business/what-makes-a-top-chief-technology-officer-experts-share-tips/)


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