Here is my generic job description for a startup CTO (Chief Technology Officer).

  • Leadership is more important than technical skills, although the best CTOs are also very technical.
  • Computer science degree is usually preferred. Bonus if from a top CS school. Note PhDs could be interesting but could also be someone theoretical vs. get shit done.
  • Has built software engineering / software development teams from scratch.
  • Has a loyal following of strong engineers that want to work with the CTO again. Is a great recruiter.
  • Is confident, humble, charismatic. Is a good story teller.
  • Has worked at a startup, ideally in total of five years of startup experience.
  • Has led development of a consumer product.
  • Has managed product managers and UI designers.
  • Has worked at a top tech company, so they see how things get done at scale etc.
  • Interested in working with a small, highly capable team for a while, 1-3 years
  • Interested in being hands-on for the first 2-3 years.
  • Comfortable with a distributed team.
  • Can explain the evolution of web tech from on-prem, to colo/dedicated, to cloud VM, to cloud containers to serverless to a smart non-technical person. (That's just an example of the important skill to clearly explain technical concepts to the rest of the executive team, but it's one that all CTOs today should be able to do.)


  • Does not job jump too often. If they have lots of 1-2 year stays, without any 5+ year stays, beware.
  • If they have an MBA, that could be a warning sign.
  • If they have a CIO title, run away.
  • If they are a little too into Agile Processes, that's a possible red flag.
paulenglish.com - articles - startups - nonprofits - press 22-Jun-2021