For most startups, hiring the right top-level executives to run the company can be a little tough, especially given your limited budget. However, it is crucial to have the right mix of talent. Ideally, this should consist of business experience, technical knowledge, and design ability. As the company grows, the different roles involved will start to include additional tasks that require more specialized talent. This is true across the board, including for your technical expert.
Which leads us to this question: who should you hire when deciding between a CTO vs VP of Engineering?
Technical Roles in a Growing Company
The technical side of your business will see his or her role evolve as the company grows. At the start, this role will be more focused on technical research and development, but later on, there will come a need for personnel and project management. When this happens, you will likely need another leader in place. The key is knowing what type of leader you need at the start and which should come later on.
CTO vs VP of Engineering
The chief technology officer is primarily in charge of your company’s technical direction. This includes keeping up on the latest research, maintaining a clear understanding of your company’s technical needs and capabilities, and leading cutting-edge development. This role has much less emphasis on project or employee management than it does on technical strategizing, so a CTO is likely the best person for a startup.
Once your company has enough people to make personnel management a large issue, it is most likely time to bring on a VP of Engineering. The VP E’s role involves more management than research, and he or she will be heavily involved in keeping projects well aligned with the company’s technical strategy, coordinating engineering efforts, and consulting with the CTO to design technical plans.
Which to Choose?
If your company has fewer than 10 people total, then you likely don’t have a need for a VP of Engineering just yet. At this point, most of your needs will be met by a CTO. When there finally comes a need for project management beyond your CTO’s ability to handle, then taking on a project manager might be more appropriate than a VP of Engineering for small companies.
On the other hand, if you see more of a need for personnel management than technical development and expertise, then a VP of Engineering is your best option if you have the engineering personnel to make that role necessary. When you make the hire, however, it is important to make sure they can grow with the role without being over-qualified for it.