I had the good fortune of being an early adopter of the title Field CTO which is a wonderful thing except thats not the last job I want to have so what is my career progression. I didn’t even think about that 5 years ago when I took the position and as I have seen other friends and colleagues move into the role they are in the same position.
Let’s first look at what a Field CTO is. It’s a great title that encompasses the combination of technical prowess and people skills. The challenge is that that is very broad and every company seems to define it differently, even to the level of where the position lies in the organization. I reported up through the product management side, I know others that have reported to sales and others to marketing. I know some that have their own teams and some that are solo acts. It seems very company dependent. The skill set being asked for also varies from a very technical CTO style to a super SE and even at times to just a marketing evangelist.
With all the different types of jobs and roles the next question is how does one end up in this role? I believe there are 2 ways, the first is that the person has been in house and has knowledge across so many areas of the business that you don’t want to lose them and the title is a stepping stone. The second is someone who comes into a company specifically to fill that senior technical field role when a natural CTO is not as presentable to customers. What both of these have in common is that rarely does a company have a growth plan in place before filling the position.
Once you are a Field CTO what is the next role? During my interview process when changing jobs I found this to be a harder topic than I realized. My position being in Product Management seemed to worry people that I would not be able to be as outward focused as they wanted. Then I had the concern about any position I was talking to would be a step down career wise so they assumed I would not take it. I even had one company that thought because I had field experience I must not be technical at all and I was just a marketer.
I decided that I would just have to look at the title and determine on my own if I was interviewing someone would it look like a step down, when I said no then the title was fine. I never really cared about the title except for that anyway. Then I had to hope my years of experience came through during the interview process to show I had both technical chops and personality. For me I think I will end up back in a people manager/mentor type role while still having my hands on some tech to know the product, but for now I choose a role that lets me use my outbound and technical skills. Who knows maybe the next one will be a CEO or a CTO or a position I have never heard of yet.
I don’t claim to know what the next position is but I truly hope that those in the position now are able to talk to their management teams and figure it out since this won’t be your last job.