Friday, June 6, 2008

Interim CTO

When a CEO leaves a company, usually the first thing that happens is that the sitting Chairman is appointed as interim CEO. Their job is to steer the company until a full-time CEO is hired.

What do companies do when their CTO leaves? Usually get by without one while they begin the search for a new one. Something that I've experienced recently at both my old and new companies is an Interim (or Transitional) CTO someone to take care of technology until a full-time CTO is found.

An interim CTO doesn't start coding software nor configuring servers. Their job is to provide technology representation for the existing team. Technology teams need an advocate, and can feel completely unrepresented without one. Interim CTOs don't need to come up with a technology strategy, but they do need to mind the store, including shepherding in-play projects, running the budget, and executive communication.

iVillage had an interim CTO when I arrived, and his help has been invaluable to me as I got my head around the extensive technology footprint here. Its made me more effective. I could choose what to focus on first, fully knowing that anything I wasn't focused on was being taken care of by someone else. I recommend a 3 month overlap as ideal.

So, for any company losing their CTO, get an Interim CTO. There are plenty of talented consultants/ex-CTOs out there to help you, use them.


Tim O'Brien said... put a good face on it, but I have to tell you from personal experience that the job of interim CTO is possibly one of the worst positions in a company. Any time there is a shift in the executive team it is a signal to every discontent in the building to jockey for position.

Two pieces of advice for any company. If your CTO wants to move on, or if you'd like to et rid of your CTO:

1. Wait until you've settled on an annual budget. The last thing you want to do is throw the interim into the snakepit that is interdepartmental struggles for resources.

2. Don't pick anyone you would consider for the job. If you do, you create a situation where the staff doesn't know who to report to or what to expect.

Lastly, if you work in this department and are offered the interim CTO position, only take it if you were planning on leaving anyway. Contrary to what you may think, you csn't just "be the boss" for a few month and then move back into the same cubicle.

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