5 things every aspiring CTO needs to know

Neil McGowan, group CTO of fast-growth international web hosting firm Miss Group, shares his insight on the skills and capabilities aspiring CTOs should be developing now for future success.
Neil McGowan, group CTO of fast-growth international web hosting firm Miss Group, shares his insight on the skills and capabilities aspiring CTOs should be developing now for future success.
1. Understanding your customer

Understanding your customer is probably the simplest yet most valuable skill that you can master. It is one that all quality CTOs possess. Due to the nature of our role being technical, it is easy for you and your team to get lost in technical and operational detail. As a CTO, it’s your role to understand your customers and the business problems they need you to solve. You must lead your team in understanding what the customer wants and ensure you develop solutions that can deliver that requirement.

CTOs tend to over-engineer things. Suppose you listen to your customer and can translate their needs into technical requirements. In that case, you’re more likely to find simple and faster ways of getting to quality solutions and improved customer experiences. 

2. Make tech easy

Many business people are worried about technology as they find it complex, expensive, and unable to meet business needs. As the CTO, you translate between the technical and the business world to remove technical complexity and make things easy to understand.

This can be difficult for the CTO, as you have to understand the business to convert technical ideas into terms the company will understand. If you do this well, then demand for technical capability and your team will grow. Part of the skill of a CTO is presenting complex information in a straightforward and accessible way for the customer to understand.

3. Building a great team

Developing your own leadership and coaching skills is essential for any aspiring CTO. You need to recognise, nurture and develop the talent around you. Effective leaders are great at finding the best in people, giving them roles where they can use their talent and positioning them to grow new capability through the experience of real events. Sharing best practices and providing coaching helps technical staff experience new things in a way that helps them build their own career.

Miss Group has a constant stream of new brands joining the company, each with a technical team led by the local CTO. These CTOs have often grown up with that brand, and joining a much larger organisation can be challenging. We see this as an opportunity to grow our skillset and share knowledge across the group. It’s beneficial to get several perspectives on issues faced by our team. We have established a global CTO Group knowledge sharing capability and have regular virtual sessions with all CTOs to discuss group-wide opportunities and share best practices. This allows us to support new CTOs and help them build the new capability required to operate within a larger organisation.

4. Leveraging cloud and automation

Cloud platform capability has developed incredibly over the last five years and now enables SME organisations to ‘punch above their weight’ and compete globally with larger businesses. These days, you don’t need to manage a complex infrastructure; you can buy this from an Infrastructure as a Service (IAAS) provider.

Automation is another area CTOs can leverage for the benefit of their teams and their business. By finding effective ways to automate, you can create huge operational efficiency, free up resources and enable faster growth for your business.

We use this capability in house to enable global collaboration across the group, allowing customer support and infrastructure teams to operate as a single group, bringing experienced talent to solve local issues quickly.

5. Keeping things secure

This is the fastest-growing area of focus for CTOs. Cyberattacks have grown by over four times in the last 12 months, and with Ransomware capable of halting business trading, it is currently the largest risk.


It is important to build cybersecurity capability into the fabric of your organisation’s infrastructure. This threat continues to change in nature as cybercriminals identify new opportunities to exploit your systems. Therefore, CTOs must put security capabilities in place with expertise to properly protect their infrastructure and evolve and grow in line with this fast-moving risk.

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  • CTO, Leadership, 5 things every aspiring CTO needs to know

    Neil McGowan is group CTO of a fast-growth international web hosting firm called Miss Group. He has more than 30 years’ experience working at CTO/CIO level in many sectors including e-commerce, retail, utilities, automotive, financial and government. Neil focuses on using knowledge from large multi-national organisations to enable smaller businesses to leverage the power of cloud-based systems and infrastructure to accelerate growth.

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