VP of Engineering vs CTO, who does what?

Krishna Mohan
Krishna Mohan
Content Lead August 21, 2019
#engineeringleadership

10 things that set VP Engineering and CTOs apart

In the fast-paced technology world, the roles of VP Engineering and CTO are often used interchangeably, suggesting that the functions they perform are similar. However, there are subtle differences between each of these roles and the skills one needs to be adept at.

These differences are not clear in a company that is just starting off. Typically, small companies only have one of these roles, usually a CTO who is the #1 technical guru and who might also be a founding member. Eventually, as the company grows manifold, the CTO with his responsibilities such as hiring, product scaling, retention, delivery, etc is often pressed to support his team. This is when a VP of Engineering comes handy.

We have listed out the differences between a VP and CTO in certain key areas and functions that they perform. Here are a few:

Vision

While a VP of Engineering ensures that the product vision is realized through excellence in execution, a CTO is responsible for maintaining the technical edge of the company and is usually the center of thought leadership.

Strategy

A VPE, moderates, and delegates Engineering while CTO charts and guides technical strategy.

Supervision

VPE is the direct supervisor of technical staff, engineering managers or directors and a CTO usually handles a smaller roster of architects/research engineers, tech leads and engineering management leads.

Responsibility

A VPE is responsible for building and retaining a team through recruitment, charting out programs for employees’ career growth within the company. The CTO is responsible for establishing the engineering culture and vision for the company.

Planning

A VP of Engineering plans the annual budget for the engineering department that includes employee incentives, tooling costs, and other overheads. A CTO identifies and plans how the organization can use newer technologies and innovation to improve the bottom line.

Specialization

A VPE specializes in people, process and program management while spending a lot of his time working with people to get the best out of them. A CTO specializes in providing technical direction and leadership and spends most of his time researching new platforms, architectures and revisiting existing tech stack to make it best in class.

Execution

While a VP Engineering Cares and plans to execute and scale projects to take the product to market on time, a CTO cares more about how things are built with a focus on the quality of code/deliverables.

Collaboration

The role of a VP Engineering is mainly an internal one wherein he/she works with engineers and peers alike within the company to develop and execute company strategy. Whereas, a CTO is usually the technical face of the company where he/she gets involved in a lot of customer-facing activities and collaborates with other functional leadership and the board.

Final Thoughts

For a company to be successful, it is imperative that the CTO and VP of Engineering work together like the cogs in a wheel, complimenting each others’ work. As mentioned earlier, these functional differences exist only when the company gets to a reasonable size when it gets tough for a single person to handle everything, otherwise, both of them are just fruits plucked from the same tree.