I currently use the title CTO in my job despite the fact that I only directly manage two people. A classic example of the “fake” CTO. So naturally I felt a little defensive in a recent discussion with Jon Hartley about why I feel that the title can be justified by people who work in small businesses.
Let’s start with an entirely pragmatic answer: the job title is something that is well understood. While the majority of my activities day to day would be adequately covered by the title “lead developer”, the truth is that technical authority and decision making resides solely with myself. The easiest way to convey that to suppliers and recruitment agents (and stop them seeking to go over my head to my non-existent boss) is to use the most commonly understood title.
I find it ironic that I have managed much larger projects with a much junior title. In terms of experience I do not feel a particular gap with other startup CTOs but obviously there is a bigger gap as you move into the equivalent role in larger organisations. A lot of those people come from non-technical backgrounds reflecting the greater need for people management at larger scales. The number of people who have technical backgrounds and have managed groups greater than a hundred people strong onshore are probably pretty small.
For me the key differentiator in my current job is that I do hold a technology portfolio within the management and report on the whole technical area to the management team as well as the board and investors (although to be honest the latter too are not that bothered so far). I would happily concede the “Chief” as I have no other senior technology reportees but I think it is a different kind of pretension that seeks to do down the unique aspects of a role you have in an organisation. I am an officer of the company and I do make the key decisions for technology and I am held to account for them. CTO is the common title and I am comfortable using it.