Engineering Teams and Startups

  • April 29, 2010
  • Scott

I’m always on the lookout for the intersection of startups and process.  And recently Mark Suster put together yet another great post, this one about how to put your technical team together for your startup.  And specifically, the difference between your CTO and VP of Engineering.  He also has this fantastic graphic:

Engineering Team as envisioned by Mark Suster

Engineering Team

To quote Mark:

“…In my view it is important to distinguish the difference between the CTO and the “VP Engineering.”  Because these titles are so often used I’m sure that some people will have hardened views about what they mean that are different than mine.  But for non-technical founders let me offer you a definition that you can use when you build a team.  The VP of Engineering is the person who still has great technical chops but prefers not to be a coding monkey (that term is meant in the most endearing of ways).

The VP Engineering aspires to manage teams.  They feel comfortable with C++ but also have a black-belt in Excel.  They are sticklers about managing unit tests, system tests and regression tests. In fact, they are passionate about automating testing overall.  They know how to estimate work units, how to manage the agile development process and how to get the most out of their teams.  VP’s of Engineering are essential to making sure the trains run on time.  The VP of Engineering is also your primary interface to your head of product management and often the VP of Engineering is somebody you would drag in front of clients to win big deals.

And first and foremost a VP of Engineering is a people manager….”

As Mark puts it, the CTO is your purist, a hardcore technical visionary and perfectionist.  Your VP of Engineering is about process, and values scaling the organization and having repeatable systems and processes.

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