Notch is a software development company. Our clients hire us to create elegant and resilient digital products. Like any other similar venue, we maneuver around technology decisions to make it so.
As a startup, we are asked about our decision to not have a CTO role in our company. We are vocal about not having one in the local press.
What does CTO mean?
“… is an executive-level position in a company or other entity whose occupation is focused on scientific and technological issues within an organisation.”
I read through a few definitions and they’re quite similar. Basically, CTO is the top-level person on topics of technology. Having a single person on top is a valid strategy. Here are some of the scenarios where I would strongly endorse a CTO role:
#1 CTO in a product-based startup, like Soundcloud.com. This person would make strategic decisions to migrate from Ruby to Java for business scalability. She or he would be a developer advocate for the internal team. The team would be designed around a chosen technology stack.
#2 CTO in a non-tech company, such as a bank or telco. While this person would make technology decisions, her job would be even more strategic. She would be a driving force for the digital transformation of the business. She would basically work as a “(Company within a Company) CEO”.
Method to our madness
We don’t develop a single product portfolio, we develop hundreds of products. Notch is a service business, not a product business. We use diverse technology ecosystems in making it so for our clients: Java, Android, iOS, React, Python, Groovy, Vue, Angular, C, Assembler, GoLang, Hardware hacking (yes, #IOT), .Net core, TypeScript, Node and many other smaller and larger stacks. Technology is extremely important to our business success.
“What happens when you give responsibility to a single person on a topic so important? You relieve others of the responsibility. You do not use talent on all levels. And we have an abundance of talent on technology, our team is around 90% engineering. It would just be such a waste of talent to take this responsibility away from them. The pressure is on every team member to bring technology guidance to Notch.” — this is why we shy away from the CTO.
But, we do govern this madness. Companies need to be governed. Cultures need to be governed. Let me show you our structure:
Drago oversees engineering and makes sure we attract great new talent. Ivan digs deeps into R&D topics and helps spread the knowledge. Muriel takes care of Android efforts. Marko is top-level in Backend architectures and talent. and others operate in their respective fields. All of these people, along with their team members, form a Borg-style CTO, which works best for us. It is also a kind of test.
Not having a CTO is a test of our culture. It proves we can communicate on all levels and listen to all voices. It shows us that technology is still in the core of our culture and that most of us are obsessed with it. As we grow, we adapt our structure to help this culture continue. Not the other way around.
One size does not fit all
We are a small shop with around 100 people. Please take our approach with a grain of salt if you are a much bigger system. Bigger systems have bigger issues with radiating critical information and making timely decisions. Having a dedicated person would probably make sense, such as Thoughworks has in Rebecca Parsons. But, vy is a 5000+ team. And we are not.