CTO versus Architect

A software architect is a person who is responsible for setting the road map for his company’s software. A CTO is an architect with a twist; he is restricted by another factor: the bottom line. While the architect is enthusiastic about new technologies and gets excited about new and cool tools, the CTO must balance that excitement with the deliverability of his department and not get blinded by the colorful display of those technologies. It is much tougher to be a CTO than an architect because you have to resist all temptations. The use of dynamically typed languages is pretty cool and hip, but if the application relies on many users effectively using those dynamic behaviors, you may end up gambling with your bottom line by risking your application being untestable.

For an architect, cool technologies must also not be advocated just because they are cool. However, it is much easier to get lost in those feelings when emotions fly high for the very scene of those cool technologies. As an architect, you are loyal to advancements in technologies. A CTO is loyal to the company. A CTO is not a better person than an architect, he just has more incentives in the company than an architect does. Adding more programmers may affect the bottom line (more cost), but to an architect, it is a great opportunity to explore another technology or tool. You may argue that that may not be a bad thing, and may actually help the company in the long run. That is what an architect would argue anyway.  Exactly, that is why I said a CTO’s job is tougher not because he has to have the outlook of an architect only, but also consider the opportunity cost of where else the money could have been spent to maximize ROI. As if this is not enough, he further has to evaluate the business risks that mount due to flirting with new technologies. Using cutting edge technologies may be cool but not necessarily a wise business decision if it introduces slower development, riskier code in production, harder to unit test code, etc.

There is a reason why a CTO should be a big part of the top management of the company. She is enforcing policies and budgets to protect the bottom line, while ensuring R&D is not suffocated. It is very important for the CTO to become extremely well aware of the financial flexibilities that she has as opposed to “budgets” because she should be responsible enough to handle such flexibility. She should be taking out of the basket what she thinks is needed or good enough to optimize the margin of ROI while continuing to give her company a competitive edge in the market.


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