Chief technical officer

Chief technical officer

A chief technical officer or chief technology officer (abbreviated as CTO) is an executive position whose holder is focused on scientific and technical issues within an organization. Often, the CTO will oversee technical staff at a company, particularly those building products or creating services that embody industry-specific technologies. In some cases the CTO will also oversee the work of the research and development organizations. There is currently no commonly shared definition of the CTO position or that person's responsibilities. Young start-ups typically have a set of technically hands-on tasks for the CTO, while an international conglomerate may need the CTO to deal with the representatives of foreign governments and industry organizations.

Though the position is believed to have emerged in the 1980s from that of Director of Research and Development, it came into significant use during the dot-com era of the 1990s. This era also spawned one more definition for the position. In some companies, the CTO is just like a CIO. In still others, the CIO reports to the CTO. And there are also CTOs who work in IT departments and report to the CIO. In such a situation where CTO reports to the CIO, the CTO often handles the most technical details of the IT products and their implementation. Despite the diversity of approaches to the CTO role, this IT department executive is increasingly becoming the organization’s senior technologist, responsible for overseeing current technology assets, and more important, for developing a technology vision for the business.

When asked what a CTO is, Nathan Myhrvold, the former CTO of Microsoft and head of its massive research organization, replied: cquote2|Hell if I know. You know, when Bill [Gates] and I were discussing my taking this job, at one point he said, 'Okay, what are the great examples of successful CTOs?' After about five minutes we decided that, well, there must be some, but we didn't have on the tip of our tongues exactly who was a great CTO, because many of the people who actually were great CTOs didn't have that title, and at least some of the people who have that title arguably aren't great at it. My job at Microsoft is to worry about technology in the future. If you want to have a great future you have to start thinking about it in the present, because when the future's here you won't have the time.


In practice, the CTO can have many more responsibilities than managing a portfolio of R&D or production projects. This person may report to the CEO and provide a technical voice in the strategic planning for a company. CTOs like Greg Papadopoulos at Sun Microsystems and Padmasree Warrior formerly at Motorola work closely with the CEO to help determine what types of products or services the company should focus on.


* Roger D. Smith, [ "The Chief Technology Officer: Strategic Responsibilities and Relationships"] , Research Technology Management, July-August, 2003.
* Roger D. Smith, [ "Maximizing the CTO's Contribution to Innovation and Growth",]
* John Brockman, (not dated), [ “Nathan Myhrvold: The Chef”.]
* Mary K. Pratt, [ "Is the CTO an R&D boss, a senior technologist, an IT visionary or a business insider? It depends."]

External links

* [ CTO::Weblog] - A group weblog for Chief Technology Officers
* [ StartupCTO] - Info aimed at CTOs of small companies

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