When a software company is searching for a new CTO or VP of Engineering, they tend to look for either a Chief of Surgery or a Head Coach. Hiring the right (or wrong) one can mean the difference between success and failure as a company. Knowing which you are can help you choose the right opportunity.
The Chief of Surgery is one of the best, if not the best, software engineer at the company. Often they are career engineers with limited management experience. But for a small startup where getting the code right is critical and the CTO is 1/4 of the development team, the CoS offers a huge boost in productivity by setting coding standards, establishing the architecture, drawing the technology roadmap, and coding like crazy. Basketball equivalent: Michael Jordan.
The Head Coach is a former engineer who has spent years developing their people, project, and communication skills in order to bring out the best in their team. As a company grows and can count a number of highly skilled engineers among its ranks, the engineering team will usually include leaders who can help with coding standards and architecture, but its up to the Head Coach to understand and grow individual talent, to forge a team that’s worth more than the sum of its parts, and to partner with the rest of the organization so the company builds the right software and achieves the best possible results. Basketball equivalent: Phil Jackson.