December 13, 2000, 10:04 AM — SO YOU WANT TO BE a Chief Technology Officer(CTO)?
The field is rife with possibilities. But don't bother detailing a 10-year plan for
climbing to CTO stardom -- there are many paths to the CTO's office, and the job is
changing so quickly that thinking years ahead may not be possible.
As the Internet binds companies' business strategies more closely to technology,
demand is growing for individuals who can guide their companies' technology strategy
with an eye on business goals.
"With the Internet, suddenly even nontechnology companies have to figure out how to
make themselves relevant in the Internet economy," says Judy Estrin, chief technology
officer and senior vice president for strategic technology planning and business
development at Cisco Systems, in San Jose, Calif.
In pre-Web days, CTOs were barely on recruiters' radar screens. Now, they are hot
targets. For example, Buster Houchins, managing director for mid-Atlantic operations at
Christian & Timbers, in Columbia, Md., says CTO searches will make up as much as 15
percent of his workload this year. Five years ago, he didn't have a single request for
"In the early '90s, CTOs were more tied to hardware-type people, not necessarily
software, let alone the Internet. Now, CTOs are tied predominately to [the] support [of
electronic commerce] and e-strategy or cyber-strategy," says Mark Gembicki, chairman
and CTO at WarRoom Research, in Annapolis, Md.
The evolution of the CTO is apparent in the wide-ranging duties of those with the
In nontechnology companies, the CTO may work for the CIO as a kind of technology
scout in charge of providing IT infrastructure and services internally.
In companies that earn their bread and butter by selling technological products or
services, or those that are feverishly trying to use the Internet to gain a strategic
advantage, the CTO is more likely to report directly to the top executive and have
Estrin's job description shows the diversity of CTOs' responsibilities. As CTO,
Estrin oversees about 300 people, including a group that looks at advanced Internet
initiatives. But she is also responsible for business development, the legal office,
and a group that looks at architecture across the company. Separately, as a senior
executive, she is in charge of a large portion of the centralized software division.
As far as the actual title goes, some professionals have what many would consider a
CTO's responsibilities but carry such titles as the vice president of IT or vice
president of Internet. On the flip side, some people have the CTO title but actually do
the internal system-oriented work of a CIO or focus narrowly on product development.