I'm currently working with a startup on a contract developer basis, evenings and weekends.

They have one other developer, who also happens to be the CTO. There is also a CEO and a CFO, who aren't very technical, and more focused on the business aspect.

The CTO is a super nice guy, with lots of confidence, but also just out of University, with basically no real world coding experience.

I feel as though he maybe bolstered his CV during the interview process, and passed himself as more competent than he actually is.

We are building an MVP, which I have basically built entirely myself during the evenings and sometimes weekends working with these guys.

During the day the CTO has been tinkering with some CSS/HTML, and has improved the appearance of some of the components used on the app.

In regards to who has contributed what, it's probably a 90/10 split.

In regards to myself, I have a lot of experience working well with other developers. I'm not some lone wolf type, I have a proven track record of working successfully with others, using source control, doing code reviews, participating in stand ups etc.

However I am used to working with people with a certain level of skill/competence, as opposed to with complete beginners.

For example, the CTO spent has spent the last week wrestling with Git. Basically every time he goes near Git it's a bit of a disaster. A week ago, I recommended a good Pluralsight course which had helped me learn Git. When I asked today, when he was again wrestling with a simple Git issue if he had watched the course, the response was yes, I took a look at it, it didn't seem very good.

It's become really obvious to the co-founders that the CTO is out of his depth.

To make matters worse, they share a space with about 8 other start-ups (in a tech-accelerator type environment) and it seems as though it has become obvious to the developers at the other start-ups that there is a problem, and as is to be expected, people are starting to gossip (for want of a better term).

Also in this shared space are potential investors, and other local people who are influential in the IT industry.

In this sort of environment, you don't have much privacy as a company. Everybody knows and sees what every other company is doing, and everybody talks to everybody else! Therefore I need to tread very carefully!

Today I was straight up asked by the founders of the company what value, if any, the CTO is providing, and I struggled to answer in a positive light.

I don't know what to do! Ideally I want to help to get this guy into a position where he can genuinely provide value, but we also have a very short runway.

My priority is to get the MVP into shape so when we pitch to investors they like it, and we have limited time.

Time I spend teaching the CTO the basics of coding/source control etc is time not spent on the product.

I am trying to handle this in in the least explosive way possible, and have no idea what to do.

I don't want to burn any bridges, and also don't want to leave the founders without a developer during the day, as it is a tech accelerator program, which would look really bad, and could even lead to them being removed from the program for not meeting the requirements.

Any advice would be much appreciated, thanks!

  • 7
    If they are asking for honest feedback, give it. Provide facts and let them sort out the rest. If I were a CEO of a start-up in a tech accelerator program and one of my team members wasn't pulling their weight, I'd want to know ASAP so I can fix it, rather than later when deadlines slip and opportunities pass.
    – Ron Beyer
    Feb 1 '16 at 21:00
  • Is your product for the pool industry?
    – Chimera
    Feb 1 '16 at 21:01
  • 4
    I feel as though he maybe bolstered his CV during the interview process - But unless he flat out lied to them about when he graduated, they know he's a recent graduate.
    – BSMP
    Feb 1 '16 at 23:42
  • 2
    Re "...if he had watched the course...", not everyone can usefully learn something from a video. I can't: if it's not written, I'm just wasting my time.
    – jamesqf
    Feb 2 '16 at 6:33
  • 1
    I've now learned to look at a company's 'leadership' page before interviewing -- if the founding team consists of a couple of 40 year old MBAs and a 24 year old CTO (somebody please tell me why this is so common nowadays), I walk away.
    – James Adam
    Feb 3 '16 at 16:02

Be honest.

I don't want to burn any bridges

As it is told "just the facts, Jack." Don't be rude, just be straight up. Don't gossip, just tell the founders in private what your opinion is.

[I] also don't want to leave the founders without a developer during the day, as it is a tech accelerator program, which would look really bad, and could even lead to them being removed from the program for not meeting the requirements.

It's not your job to manage the personnel. They make the decisions, but they need the right information to make those decisions.

  • 2
    The co-founders need to know their CTO isn't actually a real CTO. Without the technical background such as you, they were not able to make this initial assessment. Leading them on won't do them any favors.
    – Nelson
    Feb 2 '16 at 5:50

Today I was straight up asked by the founders of the company what value, if any, the CTO is providing, and I struggled to answer in a positive light.

The most likely reason that the founder would ask you for this feedback is that they want you to give it to them. This is important because you'll never succeed in giving feedback to people who don't want it.

First, consider the risks you incur by giving or not giving this feedback and decide whether you want to do so. For example, how might doing so affect your position in the company or possibly your career? The way you give feedback will tell them more about you than about the CTO, so remember that you can always decline; it's your choice. That said, declining to give feedback is itself a form of feedback.

Then, assuming you want to proceed, decide what you want to accomplish by giving feedback. Your company's leadership needs information to act effectively. Is your goal merely to give them that information? Or is your goal really to replace the CTO? Understand that giving feedback is an attempt to influence the receiver, and decide what sort of influence you want to have.

Whatever your goal, in order to give effective feedback you must focus on being congruent: Respond in equal measure to the other person, to yourself, and to the situation at hand. Make sure that your actions are in line with your feelings and your goals. Your feedback doesn't need to be "positive", but it does need to be fair. Here's a model1 you can follow that may help you:

  1. First, tell them what you perceive.
  2. Second, tell them what meaning you give to that perception.
  3. Third, tell them how you feel about what you perceive.

When doing this, be careful not to confuse interpretations with observations. For example:

"The CTO is lazy" is an interpretation. "I notice that the CTO spends a lot of time working on HTML/CSS for the site, but this does not seem to be a productive use of their time. I am concerned that the CTO is not prioritizing their work effectively." combines observation with interpretation.

Finally, contextualize your feedback in a way that is meaningful to the person receiving it. For example, you should make it clear that you understand the impact that a poorly performing CTO can have on a small company.

1 Gerald Weinberg, What Did You Say? The Art of Giving and Receiving Feedback, p. 123


It sounds to me as though they kind of already know the state of affairs but they need to confirm this with someone. If I'm a non-technical person in that position, I suppose it's entirely possible that this person who doesn't seem to be doing much of anything productive is actually doing scads of work on setting up the infrastructure, dealing with back-end stuff I'd never even think about, and so on. But if you know that's not the case, I think that you do need to let them know this.

It's a tricky situation to be in because in a psychological sense any bad news you relay about another person comes back on you as the purveyor of said bad news. The thing is, what's worse here? You getting the rep for being a back-stabber because a co-worker who absolutely needs to not just pull his own weight but carry the team in places can't, or you maintaining your nice-guy persona while the company goes down in flames?

You do behoove yourself to be as dispassionate as you can about the whole thing. There's no point in talking about how what he does makes you feel, or speculate as to why he might have gotten this position in the first place. Do your best to present the situation in terms of company impact and cite sources where you can (talk about a specific project he was supposed to spearhead but you did all the work on instead, for example).


It doesn't seem like everyone is aware or agreed on who is doing what. If they expect you to get things done because they assume you're working on them and not spending too much time helping the other dev, you need to make them aware of it.

You're going to have to evaluate the types of problems the other dev is having and determine of mistakes by this person could jeopardize your ability to do your job. If you're going to spend a large portion of time on Git training so this person doesn't create even more work for you, the company needs to know how you're spending your time and what will and what will not get done as a result.

Keep good notes on your time. Make sure they know what you're doing and leave it up to them to approve spending time helping the other person or to stop and focus on getting more important things done.

It's not your problem if the other dev wants to hide any deficiencies at the expense of you being perceived as doing your job.

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