I would like to know what an appropriate job designation is for somebody working in a startup company and supervising software development there.

Let's suppose the key responsibilites of this person are:

  • advising the executive board in product (software) development and science
  • supervising any software projects & other developers
  • head of development, i.e. leading the major software projects in the startup
  • developing the core products

In most startups the hierarchies are pretty flat, thus most of the work time is spent on developing the core products. Let's suppose this is done with data science in this case, i.e. developing predictive models, statistics, using machine learning & artificial intelligence approaches.

Development is mostly done in Python, hence I guess even Python developer would fit? Although this might be too implicit/vague for the real responsiblities when talking to investors?!

Calling such an employee a Chief technology officer (CTO) seems overbearing to me, since a (small) startup does not compare to the size, tasks, responisibilities or hierarchy of a well established company, where things like CEO, CTO, would perfectly fit for executive staff.

However, Wikipedia says a "CTO is an executive-level position in a company or other entity whose occupation is focused on scientific and technological issues within an organization.", which would fit for the mentioned responsibilites.

Therefore I would like to know what an appropriate job designation would be for such an employee.

Would you use one specific job designation for business cards, mail signatures, contacts to other companies, and so forth? Or would you change your job designation for different occasions? Like CTO for investors, head of development for business cards and simply data scientist for the daily business?

Answers should include an explanation why the proposed job designation is both: not "overbearing" and appropriate for established professionals, i.e. explicit enough for investors or bigger companies in general.

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    You're overthinking this. The title CTO is perfectly acceptable in a small tech startup (assuming the CTO is aware that this is just a temporary title and that he will probably be replaced/demoted with someone with more management experience once the company starts growing). And no, I am not sure how to explain such a convention. My advice would be to just visit a tech incubator or an event for startups, and ask the titles of the people you find there. And you'll find many CTOs with little to no management experience in slightly larger companies than their own. Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 23:33
  • 4
    Questions should not give demands.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Oct 7, 2016 at 0:16
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    I think just about the only thing you should not do is use the word "manager" in your job title unless you actually have people reporting to you, or the word "officer" unless you have the authority to make binding agreements on behalf of your company. Just about everything else seems fair game in a small startup unless your management tells you to dial it back. Commented Oct 7, 2016 at 1:12

3 Answers 3


Most start-ups call this person a CTO, particularly if they're advising the Board. Some will work without a CTO, in which case they are a Vice-President of Engineering and/or Technical Leader. Most candidates prefer CTO, followed by VP.

The title will drive the candidates you see. Python developer will get far less ambitious people than CTO.

The start-up CTO title would map into a large company based on span of control. Let's say the startup is purchased by a large company. If the person is the only developer or one of a few, they'll be a developer or lead developer. If the person oversees a few departments of developers, they'll be something like a director.


The title CTO designates a certain level of authority to make decisions for your company.

That's why you would need to use that title (or a title similar in authority) for your business cards and your email signature (even if you decide to introduce yourself as something else while you're handing out that CTO business card).

It doesn't matter if you get demoted to Tech Lead, or to something else, once the company starts growing. The purpose of your current title is to make sure that when people want to speak to someone with authority in your company, whether it's to negotiate a lease, order some servers, or hire developers, that they know that they're talking to someone who can actually make those kind of decisions.

Take a look at banks. In the banking industry, it's no coincidence that practically every branch manager has the title of Vice President. This is because customers are inherently aware that not all employees of a bank have the same kind of decision-making power, and so the serious customers will try to seek out the bank employee with the highest title they can find to start a banking relationship with.


CTO is a business level position. While the position focuses on the technology side it is this position is one that will eventually step away from the day to day development to focus on partnerships and deals. Unless that is the position you see yourself doing in 2 to 5 years then you probably do not want to take that title. As your company grows the CTO will be less a manager and more of a decision maker and salesman. When the company grows to the point it needs a CTO if that person is not going to be you, then you either get effectively demoted, or as often happens, released from the company entirely. It is often very difficult to work with the person who took your title away from you.

If you see your role as basically staying the same just gaining a bigger team as the company grows then I would probably look for a title like Development Manager, or Director of Development. These positions will still have an active role in the management of the developers and the management of the process.

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