Context for Enterprise Technologists

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CTOvision Authors: Jeremy Geelan, Maureen O'Gara, Bob Gourley, Pat Romanski, Wolfram Jost

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The Role of the CTO: Four Models for Success

These well defined models were based on discussions with hundreds of technologists as well as written surveys

One of my favorite examinations of the role of the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) is Tom Berray’s”Roles of the CTO: Four Models for Success.

If you are an enterprise CTO or any technologist looking for career context I strongly recommend it to you for its situational awareness and context. Tom writes of CTOs in four models:

  • The Infrastructure Manager
  • The Big Thinker
  • The Technology Visionary and Operations Manager
  • The External-facing Technologist

These well defined models were based on discussions with hundreds of technologists as well as written surveys.  

It remains the definitive work on CTO roles, and has been referenced by some of the greats, including Amazon CTO Werner Vogels. (see http://www.allthingsdistributed.com/2007/07/the_different_cto_roles.html ) Werner says “I believe Tom Berray’s quadrant gives the best framework for reasoning about what makes CTOs successful.”  I have to agree.

As a CTO, I appreciated Tom’s groundbreaking work in describing the community, since it helped me talk with people about my own role.  Too frequently people misunderstand what a CTO does, in part because CTOs perform different roles in different enterprises.   Ambiguity can impede effectiveness so the clarity of this model has been very helpful.

Ambiguity over the role can also contribute to challenges for organization seeking a new CTO, which leads to another important aspect of Tom’s work.  He provides a mapping of CTO roles to organizational needs in a way that can help companies determine the best type of CTO for their needs.

If you are preparing a search for a CTO, a study of Tom’s framework can help provide context which can ensure you are looking for the right set of skills.   If you already have an executive on your team responsible for technology strategy, you may want to ask them if they are familiar with this study, since it may help them in their dialog with others over their role.

Which type of technologist are you?  Please give us your thoughts:


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More Stories By Bob Gourley

Bob Gourley writes on enterprise IT. He is a founder of Crucial Point and publisher of CTOvision.com