Chief Technology Officers (CTO) of modern businesses are busy people. With so much on their plate focusing on strategy and building the company up for the long term, Being a hands-on CTO who codes can take up precious time that could be spent looking at the bigger picture.

But the question remains, should a CTO know how to code? Let’s take a look at the roles and responsibilities of a CTO to determine how much technical knowledge is needed to be an effective leader.

What Does a CTO do?

A CTO is responsible for making sure the technology functions properly. To do this, they must be aware of coding trends, best practices in the field of coding, language and jargon used and developments to help inform strategy. The role of CTO is managerial and is more focused on facilitation than operation.

The role of a CTO is more business focused than actually getting involved with coding; they are there to manage deadlines, tasks, technological strategies to reach business goals, delegate tasks within their team and so on. The CTO should create and build a team of people who are right for their respective positions, deliver solutions and drive the business forward.

How does a CTO Reach Business Goals?

Involving oneself in coding as a CTO can undermine the business goals. Being hands-on can distract from priorities that exist elsewhere in the CTO’s role, which can lead to major failings when there are imminent deadlines. These other aspects of the role won’t just disappear if they aren’t being tended to, which leaves the hands-on CTO unable to juggle coding as well as maintaining and supporting their team as the team leader.

As language changes, a CTO who knows coding may not keep up with new jargon and continue to code as they did previously. When this happens, it can squander a team’s innovation by dismissing or just not including new ideas and language. The more code a CTO writes, the more discourse there will be in the work being done. The CTO is better off evolving with the times; keeping on top of and learning new concepts and language from their team. This information should be used by the CTO to make judgment calls, rather than getting into the coding themselves.

How can a Non-Technical CTO Stay Relevant?

While it may seem overwhelming or leave one feeling like a fish out of water to step into a CTO role without coding know-how, there are ways to maintain a handle on your role within the business.

As a CTO, using issue tracker tools will help you put in early feedback on features and keep track of what is getting done and when. You can also use them to communicate with members of the team who are writing code within the context of specific projects or tasks. Balsamiq is an issue tracking tool for non-technical people that is easy to use and quick to get set up.

Build and deployment tools such as Cruise Control and Jenkins can help you get a build done. Once it is set up by the technical team, a tool like this can be used to deploy the latest code on a ‘staging’ to test and build the software. At this stage, it's quite easy for a non-technical CTO to use in their role.

Engineer Team Performance Tools

There are many tools available to assist CTO’s in their role. Here are just a few:

  • GitHub- This version control system allows you to host and share private repositories with businesses and individuals. Use GitHub as a central location to access and review code, files, and to provide feedback to your team.
  • Gitalytics- Analytics software that translates all of that Git information in Github into performance metrics. As a leader of software engineers, you can use these dashboards to better understand the code base your team is working in, and where they are getting stuck.
  • Slack- A workplace chat space that allows your team to connect no matter where they are. Channels can be created to organize based on location, tasks, and projects. As a team leader, you can utilize Slack to communicate directly with team members and send information and reminders in an organized fashion.
  • Jira- This project and issue tracking software is a streamlined solution to tracking issues, following your team’s activity and assigning projects. You are able to assign tasks to specific team members and track workflow from beginning to end of each project.

No matter your experience with or understanding of code, it is always possible for a CTO to make use of the right tools for technical management. Spend less time in the business, and more time on the business, by utilizing tools that translate technical output for you.