There's More Than One Way To Do It

How to find CTO-class engineer

opinionated article

What is CTO?

CTO(Chief Technical Officer or Chief Technology Officer) is the top of company in charge of technology. Some companies also have VP of Engineering as different role. In that case, recruiting, education and management are done by VPoE.

However, since the company size of startup is small, startup CTO do the both of technology and recruiting.

Where's CTO?

When I do freelance business, some clients lack CTO. The standard job change is move one person from company A to company B. However CXO have generally high commitment to their business.

They lack the motivation of job change. Since the number of founder grows, CTO demand is high. The application ratio of Tokyo engineer is around 10. If 10% of engineers achieve CTO criteria, you have to interview with 100 engineers for one CTO position.

The organization who have VP of Engineering is not majority. That means there's big role gap between tech lead and CTO because the candidate have to do technology area and non-technology area.

CTO skill requirements

When I discuss with clients, "CTO-class engineer" differs each. The requirement needs clarification.

Non Tech Area

  • Is the team management needed?
  • Do you want CTO to recruit engineers?

If you don't need these or you can do by yourself, just you need is full-stack engineer or Tech Advisor.


  • Web server
    • Infrastructure(AWS, GCP, Docker, Kubernetes etc)
    • Backend(PHP, Ruby, Python, Go etc)
    • Frontend(Vue.js, React, jQuery etc)

Traditionally, the background of CTO is infrastructure and backend. Some use Firebase as data store, but I think web development knowledge is mandatory for the most cases. If the company focus is mobile app, web frontend is not needed.

  • Mobile app
    • iOS
    • Android
    • ReactNative
    • Flutter

If the system is Web-only, mobile app is no need. Some CTO know web and iOS, but lack Android. They focus MVP.

  • Game development
    • Unity
    • Unreal Engine
    • Cocos2d
    • XR

Apple Glass will be launched in a few years

  • Machine learning, data science
    • Technique-based
      • SQL
      • Decision tree like XGBoost
      • Deep Learning
    • Domain-based
      • Image recognition
      • Sound recognition
      • Natural Language Processing

For improvement iteration, data analysis fundamental is mandatory. Most companies want to add recommendation and matching features. If the focus is MVP, just SQL is OK.

  • DeepTech, Domain knowledge
    • Blockchain
    • Drone
    • Quantum computer
    • smart speaker skill
    • patent

There's less blue ocean for traditional web development. Additional domain knowledge is necessary for advantage. Some companies have CRO: Chief Research Officer as different role. Some companies have CPO: Chief Patent Officer as different role.

  • Natural Language
    • Japanese
    • English
    • Chinese
    • Others

If the team is global team in Japan, Japanese and English are minimum criteria.

How to find CTO-class engineer

Now main topic.

First of all, the role CTO is not well-evaluated in large company. If the person who can do iOS, Rails and data analysis, that all Lv. 3 person cannot over-perform to single-specialized Lv. 5 person in each area. The role of large company is fine and specialized.

Some companies advise that full-stack engineer converts to specialized engineer when company grows. The standard assessment come from what they do now. Full-stack engineers are sometimes under-evaluated.

When you search CTO candidate, normal pitfall is contact famous engineer who speeches on tech conference. That thing is not bad, but specialized one skill engineer is not always good at full-stack development. My advice is search under-evaluated full-stack engineer in large organization.

Freelance may be close to CTO

As different measure, there's CTO training course recently. This is the senior version of coding bootcamp. Day1 content was

  • Does the developer need to aim CTO?
  • CTO role
  • Startup DevOps
  • Finance
  • Incident management of team and product

No technical talks were included. Main part is how to read financial report, the discussion about major troubles.

This might be biased, but I think freelancer is close to CTO. Tax return grows financial skills. Working experiences with many clients grows the number of measures. Of course freelancers prefer solo-work. That is bad side.

Full stack is one of the advantage of freelancer. One way is using tech advisor on early stage, then CTO will be raised from internal tech lead.


Non-engineer sometimes think engineering is only one area.

The person who search CTO-class engineer is normally not the superman who can do sales, marketing, finance, tax and legal area. Making job description clear is important.

The super hacker who can understand Japanese, English, a little Chinese, infrastructure, backend, frontend, smart speaker skills, machine learning, data analysis, blockchain, iOS, Android, patent and VTuber is here.