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Gates. Jobs. Bezos. It’s easy to name some prominent CEOs — chances are, you recognized those examples by last name alone. But try naming a few chief technology officers (CTOs), and the task is suddenly much harder.
Elon Musk is arguably today’s most well-known CTO. But I would bet that many, prior to reading this sentence, were unaware that he holds this title at SpaceX — he’s much better known as its CEO. Musk is one person with two critical roles, but receives far more recognition for one over the other.
Unfortunately, this is true on the larger scale. All companies, especially startups, require equally strong leaders in both CEO and CTO roles in order to succeed, but acknowledgement is rarely split evenly.
This particular topic hits close to home for me: Andrew Waage, my co-founder and the CTO of Retention Science, recently turned 30. It led me to reflect on the 15 years I’ve known Andrew, as well as our journey in starting three companies together. Looking back, it struck me how often Andrew’s role goes unnoticed, when really, it deserves the most celebration.
The tendency to overlook the CTOs of companies, even at tech startups, sets a potentially dangerous precedent for leaders of young companies. It’s easy to equate strong CEOs with their companies, such as Bezos with Amazon, and even easier for entrepreneurs to want to aim for visionary status. There’s a reason HBO’s Silicon Valley promo ads, which depicted tech hopefuls in identical black turtlenecks, all striking that iconic Steve Jobs hand-to-chin pose, worked as an instantly understandable pop-culture reference.
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