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I've been in a startup for 4.5 years. The company is doing reasonably well, but I can see that, unless it grows quickly soon, there won't be an interest from a technical perspective & I could risk my future career. I run all aspects of the technology platform and manage one other developer (the company is only 5 people). Considering the resources, I think we've done a very good job.
The trouble is, looking at senior technical positions outside (£80k+), they seem to require:
a) Leading a large team, with alot of people management. (I've led teams of 4-5 before, but that was a while ago and isn't that big).
b) Compliance framework buzzwords, like TOGAF, CMMI etc.
c) Being focussed on a specific niche technology (e.g. Kubernetes), which clearly isn't the case , because I handle everything, I'm a generalist.
I can't help but feel that having had full responsibility for a (successful) company's IT strategy & technical direction has some value.
Can I legitimately market myself as a CTO? It's effectively the role I'm performing, but not official and, being very hands on, it's clearly not the role of a CTO in a bigger organization.
Is there somewhere where these sorts of skills are vital?
Do I have to assume all of this was a waste of career and look at building up the more “corporate” skills that people seem to want?
I'd love to know about other people's experience and advice.
Well you can, but do you have the management skills and experience to actually do the job? You first need to decide whether you want a technical or managerial role, as the two are (in my experience) totally different beasts. I tried being a manager once and hated every minute of it, so was happy to spend my time in purely technical roles.
Well, considering I've done something similar in my career, I'll chime in. I think most experts in the industry recognize that we love our buzzwords like people love their lottery. I mean, it's not Notepad we use, it's a Strategic Data Procurement Appliance Application.
As cheesy as it sounds, be honest with new employers if you're looking. You're learning new skills that not every tech person learns, and that's valuable to the right people. Here's what is going to happen. The non-technical people (which is most) are going to usually glance right over your resume. It may as well be gibberish to them. Which means, you'll need to play some catch up on the latest trends and buzzwords.
IoC is a good example. Any real pro has been doing some form of IoC or another for decades now. It's also a buzzword, just like Cloud and IoT. There are buzzword frameworks now to help with IoC. You can explain the fundamental concepts to someone about what IoC really is (more than just DI), but once again... gibberish. So you'll have to speak the language of your customer and use the same key buzzwords they're already looking for. They don't know what they're hiring. And so, it's buzzword bingo. Much like a primitive pre-Google search engine.
None of this applies to people who are technical mind you. Just those that aren't. Also, if you use a recruiter, most of them will remove links to work examples and personal websites, etc. in fear of you being contacted directly. So, I'd give work examples or charts explaining how you helped grow the company, but also remove personal ways of contact on them so a recruiter has no qualms about using it.
So in short, yes... market yourself as a CTO if that's the career path you want. But also mention the size. Say it was for a small team. Leading five people isn't that much different than leading one, just as long as you keep organized. Business is about communication and systems. So... communicate and catch up on the latest buzzwords and just accept not everyone will see the value in what you've accomplished, but the right people will.
Also, mention the other skills you have. Say how you helped the company since its inception. I've hired devs before and what I've learned from that is it's hard to find a good worker. So, if you're a good worker you'll always have a job IMO... just as long as you convey that to the world. The trick is, is to make yourself stand out from the bad ones (and there are a lot) so the world knows you're a good worker.
Most people do just enough to get past the interview and the boom back to not caring about their work. Don't be that person. Find a way to let people know you're not that person so you stand out. And then I believe the rest will handle itself so you won't have to worry so much about which titles to use.