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June 14, 2023 · 3 min read

Hiring a CTO: Look for a wizard, not a rockstar

There are a lot of terms in tech that describe the kind of talent a team is looking for: unicorn, 10x, and, my personal least favorite, rock star. When it comes time to hire your next CTO, ignore all of these and find yourself a wizard. 

Before we get into what rock stars and wizards look like in the tech world, let’s look at what they are in the real world. 

Rock stars are:

  • Loud
  • Brash
  • Flashy

Wizards, on the other hand are:

  • Wizened
  • Thoughtful
  • Resourceful

In more practical terms, at least for the purposes of this conversation, a “rock star” CTO is going to be someone who has had recent success building something big. They’re a coding phenom who has been hyped up by the press to seem like “the next big thing.” They may be great for the image of your brand as one that’s ready to take a leap, but ultimately they still have a lot to learn about navigating the world.

A “wizard”, on the other hand, is a seasoned technologist who has built many things, and has been successful at most of them (because what is success if you didn’t trip on your wizard robe along the way at least a couple of times?). They will be better suited to seeing how business needs translate into technical solutions. They’re pragmatic and grounded in their approach, which, while decidedly less sexy, is ultimately better for building a company.

Wizards have been around the block

Wisdom comes in many forms, but at the base of it is experience. You want a CTO who has experience delivering projects and building products from the ground up. You want someone who has celebrated successes AND lamented failures, because both have a place in growing businesses, and both serve a purpose in personal growth.

Wizards know how to build a team

Sure, a rock star has a team behind them, but is it the team they built? Or is it the team their company built to support their prowess? A wizard knows it’s the sum of talents that makes a team amazing. They also hold the wisdom to grow and nurture the talents of junior developers through mentorship and leadership. That team becomes the asset, rather than placing that title on a single developer.

Wizards care about appearance

But not in that way. They want a product to look finished. They want it to look polished. A wizard CTO cares about building the right solutions, not just the ones that look the coolest and most flashy. A wizard knows you can’t parallax scroll your way through a terrible experience, relying on good looks to distract a user from a product that doesn’t hit the mark.

Wizards are worldly

Being incredibly adept at writing code is obviously a necessary asset in a CTO. But what about the other things that make a leader great? Empathy, understanding, project management, and fostering growth are all important skills for a great CTO to master, and those things can only come with experience.

How to find a wizard

Staying up to date with the latest trends in technology is always going to be necessary, but look through a candidate’s history for wisdom, experience, and practical skills as well if you want someone who will work magic with your product. Ask about their successes as well as their failures. Do a deep dive into the jobs they’ve held to find out if they’re well-rounded. Look beyond stylish haircuts and trendy buzzwords and see if you can find your wizard, quietly working wonders behind the scenes.