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How to hire a CTO if I am not a programmer?

I am a founder of an early stage e-commerce start up and am trying to find a lead programmer who will hopefully become CTO. I've taken a couple Java classes in college and am currently 45% through codeacademy's lesson on Python, so I have some understanding of programming.


We have a MVP built on wordpress(contracted out), but we have to hire a CTO or atleast have one lined up before we proceed to get funding.


I have met with some people and had great conversations about the company and figured out a lot about them personality-wise, but I don't exactly know how I can test them in their coding ability. Any helpful tips on how to accurately assess a developers skill if you don't know how to program well?

Also,What should I look for in a lead programmer that will tip me off to if they will be a good CTO?

18 Replies

John Corry
0
0
John Corry Entrepreneur
Software Engineer, Tools at Yik Yak, Inc.
>Any helpful tips on how to accurately assess a developers skill if you don't know how to program well?

'Crowdsource' it. As a beginner programmer, you can't really assess the competence of anyone who would have the experience to effectively serve as a CTO. But you can get a fairly good idea about a candidate through conversations with their peers, colleagues, former managers/employers. Hiring a senior level programmer simply to provide consulting by conducting interviews may be a good approach too, I am pretty sure if my company (or myself) were approached and asked to provide consulting like that, we would be happy to take on a project like that.
Roger Smith
3
0
Roger Smith Entrepreneur
Chief Technology Officer at RealtyClub Investment Advisors
I would suggest finding someone you do know and trust who may be able to speak with these folks and provide you an assessment.

Jake Carlson
2
0
Jake Carlson Entrepreneur • Advisor
Software Development Manager at Oracle
I would get someone involved with the interview process that really knows their stuff. I'm all for self-improvement and it's great that you're learning programming, but there is no substitute for experience. An experienced CTO / lead developer should be able to ask questions pertaining to common problems and be able to weed out the applicants that are faking it vs the ones that really know what they are talking about. Demonstratedprevious work is a must here. Programmers build things. Look at the things the applicant built, and have someone with lots of experience look at some code samples.
Taylor Dondich
5
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Taylor Dondich Entrepreneur
Vice President of Engineering at MaxCDN
If you are looking to hire a developer who will become, eventually, your CTO and not just a programmer, then you are looking to hire a potential executive member who will represent your company. As such, it's important to look for someone who has the technical chops as well as the ability to be communicative with the outside world. What does this mean:

1) Do they have a github account (www.github.com)? If so, do they contribute to any public repositories? Do they file bugs? What does their communication on these repositories look like? Is it clear? Do they delegate tasks to other contributors in the repositories? If so, are they respectful and clear in their direction?

2) Any public interviews? Have they done any PR for the work they've done with other companies or for themselves? Are they able to convey technical concepts in easy to understand ways?

3) What's their social media profile look like? Yes, this matters for a CTO role. Do they have a twitter account? Are they considered an influencer in the tech circles they are involved in? Do they attend any meetups? Have they SPOKEN at any meetups?

4) What does their linkedin profile look like? Do they hop from one company to another? Are hey loyal? What does their testimonials say? Skip the testimonials that are vague and don't give you an idea of what the person did and what kind of impact they had. Look for testimonials such as: "A did B which gave us C and that made us D"

It's imperative that if you hire a lead programmer / CTO, you hire a leader and a representative. Otherwise, you're just hiring a code monkey with a title which will make it ever so harder to hire that leader once you find them.


Hope that helps!
James Bond
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James Bond Entrepreneur
CTO at SupplyBetter
I think you're starting the right way, by talking with them yourself to see if the interpersonal dynamics are good (you're going to be spending a lot of time with this person!), and if they believe in the opportunity (you want someone at this stage who's as passionate about the idea as you are). Have them discuss their work process with you, and explain a technical problem they've solved. You don't need to understand every detail; but it's absolutely critical that they can communicate with you about technical issues in a way that enables you to make trade-offs, and not just snow you with technical gobbledygook. Talk about how they'll prioritize the development tasks, and how they'll determine how features will work -- are they going to proactively involve you, or are they going to just charge off on their own (remember, *you* are their "customer"). Lastly,make sure they're prepared to do what needs to be done -- some people who call themselves CTO'sjust want to manage a team anddon't want to get their hands dirty coding; but most likely that's what you need at this stage (but also, ask them how they would go about hiring and managing a team).

If it feels like a good fit with all the above, then get someone you trust to vet them. This could be a technical advisor, if you have one; or a friend. It's best if this person has somerelevant technical expertise in what you're trying to build (i.e. someone who does embedded software isn't the best person to assess someone to build an enterprise SaaS app).
Gerald Morton
0
5
Gerald Morton Entrepreneur
Director at Ministry of Education, British Columbia
I will be out of the office from June 30 to July 14. Please contact Ian Rongve for inquiries regarding the Applied Research..
Pej Azarm
0
0
Pej Azarm Entrepreneur
VP at Fluxx
+1 to the above comments. The key being to have either one very trusted or a few competent folks participate in the interview / vetting process for both his technical skills and his leadership / character traits. A great programmer does in no means equal even a good CTO.
Mohsin Khan
0
0
Mohsin Khan Entrepreneur
Chief Strategy Office at Canary LLC
What should I look for in a lead programmer that will tip me off to if they will be a good CTO?
Jim Hunter
0
0
Jim Hunter Advisor
Chief Scientist & Technology Evangelist at Greenwave Systems Inc
Great suggestions thus far. As a start-up, your CTO will have many responsibilities. In addition to managing the product technology, the CTO will likely be the chief architect, determine the coding guidelines and tools used for all technical development, QA and bug tracking. The CTO may even be the public technical face of the company, which includes communicating with other executives and investors on behalf of your company. Finally, your CTO will be directly responsible for selecting your future technical team, something that is key to your success. I advise that you should leverage several competent and proven technical experts to help evaluate prospective candidates. Perhaps FD has some adviser recommendations you can tap for this important process.
Panos Kougiouris
0
0
Panos Kougiouris Entrepreneur • Advisor
Founder at NeatSchool
Many entrepreneurs wonder what a technical advisor does; well here is one way to make use of one. Find a techie professional with accomplishments who would be the ideal CTO but has other commitments and recruit him to help you. Interviewing and helping you find the perfect candidate should be one of his main responsibilities in this stage. The point is that it will be much easier to find an advisor than a full-time co-founder but you can still get the ball rolling this way. You will get access to his network and you will have somebody to bounce ideas etc. Good Luck!!
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