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VP Engineering or CTO. What do we need?

As my company moves to the next stage in its evolution, I'm looking at how best to set up the dev team. We're in the telehealth space and offer solutions for eye care and chronic disease detection and management. We're B2B focused (hospitals, clinics, eye care professionals, etc...). Currently, we're pretty small. We have one senior developer and 3 more junior level programmers in addition to an individual who looks after the cloud infrastructure and the development environment. All these resources are managed by the co-founder who looks after everything product and technology related. While the co-founder has a computer science degree, he's not a software engineer per se. He's a bit of a jack of all trades IT guy. He does know the eye care industry and the company's product platform inside out as he has overseen its design and development since day one. I think the co-founder would be most effective in a "product management" role and to be the conduit between customers and the dev team. Maybe even a role that would include project implementation and oversight. As such, he'd manage the product roadmap. If our plans go reasonably well, the dev team is going to grow. We have ongoing improvements to our mature flagship product and we need to complete some new products that we started. We're also looking at other healthcare market segments for our products, which will require a bit of tweaking. I'm thinking that we need to bring in a seasoned software engineering type who can a) build the team, b) manage the team and c) collaborate with the co-founder to ensure our products meet customer/market needs and achieve competitive differentiation. So, do I need a CTO or a VP Engineering? What's the difference?

26 Replies

Rob Rusher
0
0
Rob Rusher Advisor
Director, Denver Area
You might be better off with a good project manager. The co-founder still sets the direction of the product features and the sr dev (if capable) can lead architecture.
That will get you to the next stage where you can look at higher level tech resources.
Scott Maddux
6
0
Scott Maddux Advisor
Advisor at DoneBy
What you describe is closer to a VP of Engineering than CTO. The VPE is generally more tactical and very team/productivity focused. The CTO is generally more concerned with long-term technology strategy, architectural decisions, participating in fund-raising (pitching tech story etc.) and helping close tier-1 customer sales.
Everett Young
5
0
Everett Young Entrepreneur • Advisor
CEO @iCHAMP
https://bothsidesofthetable.com/want-to-know-the-difference-between-a-cto-and-a-vp-engineering-4fc3750c596b#.dtm0iifse


Kirill Pertsev
0
0
Kirill Pertsev Entrepreneur
Director Cloud Operations at EIS Group Ltd
CTO is a company officer. His/her job is to figure out technological strategy in all aspects, including hiring, including hiring the VPE, who would be responsible for executing this strategy.
So your question is: do you have technology strategy and if you don't, do you need one?
CTO is not a software engineer on steroids (literally and/or figuratively) but someone who shares your vision and passion and knows (or thinks she/he knows and can convince others) how to change the world/industry with technology.
Hugo Troche
3
0
Hugo Troche Entrepreneur
Software Engineer. Entrepreneur
The CTO is your technical guru. That is person that keeps up with the technology market and understands how to use new technologies to push forward the mission. In a traditional sense the CTO is more of an R&D person with a small staff doing advance project and prototypes. The CTO in conjunction with Marketing and Sales should define the product roadmap.

The VP of Engineering is a manager with technical background. This person will usually have the engineers (if less than 10) or the engineering managers reporting to her. This person makes sure that technical roadmap is executed, that the people that needs to be hired are hired and that the technical team has everything it needs to build and maintain the product.

In most startups while you are small one cofounder is the CTO, VP of Engineering, Director of Engineering and Lead Engineer at the same time. Most entrepreneurial engineers that manage to hack together a product that gains traction adapt well and quickly to the CTO role. Yet, adapting to the VP of Engineering role is harder.

From what you described, you need a VP of Engineering in charge of hiring and managing the technical team and your cofounder takes the CTO role to set technology and product direction.
Ozzie Diaz
5
0
Ozzie Diaz Entrepreneur
Strategic Planning at Intel Corporation
As a 3-time CTO and 1-time CEO, you need a VP of Engineering (aka engineering lead) but who rolls up their sleeves, codes and takes support calls. You're too small to worry about a CTO for now.
Alfredo Alvarez Lamela
1
1
Alfredo Alvarez Lamela Entrepreneur
Sr. Software Developer
Hi Richard, Pretty interesting product you have there. From the sounds of it It sounds like the current co-founder would be the CTO and what he needs is a director(at the size you describe a VP might be overqualified) of engineering that he can manage to handle the software development part of the company. Normally the CTO is in charge of setting up the vision for infrastructure and product development. A director or general manager takes care of executing the projects and making sure that the pipeline is filled and that you have the necessary resources to execute on it. -Alfredo
Andras Boross
0
0
Andras Boross Entrepreneur
Co Founder at Plethy, Inc
Richard, I am on a plane, flying back from DC, I was on a mtg with NSF about Mobil health, smart health. Will you contact you tomorrow We are taking off right now Andras
Richard Pridham
0
1
Richard Pridham Entrepreneur • Advisor
Investor, President & CEO at Retina Labs
In my mind the co-founder is the CTO. He just doesn't want to refer to himself as such. The reason is because his role in the past (prior to my involvement) was as as a general manager with another absentee co-founder who's no longer with the company. I think he can do a great job on a product management and strategy if we got someone more experienced to lead engineering. It's this person who would build and manage the team and would be accountable for results.
Asad Rashid Satti
0
0
Asad Rashid Satti Entrepreneur
Sr. Mobile Developer/Architect at MiiScan Inc.
I think you need VP Engineering. This is how differentiate. If you need leadership for deliverables it is VP Engineering an if you need leadership for deliverables, direction and vision then you need CTO
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