15 Tech Leaders On Why (And How) CTOs Should Find Time To Code

Many CTOs have moved into the C-suite from “the ranks”—they’re past developers and engineers whose skills and experience have helped them move into a leadership role. Still, many of them may look back fondly to the days when they had lots of time to “get their hands dirty” and dig into coding. It’s certain that day-to-day coding isn’t the prime focus of an executive tech leader—but does that mean they should give coding up entirely?

For many CTOs, the answer to that is a resounding “no”—they say there are compelling, strategic reasons why tech leaders at all levels should continue to find time to code. Here, 15 members of Forbes Technology Council discuss why (and how) CTOs should find time in their busy schedules to dig into coding.

To Make An Authentic Connection With The Team

Technology leaders should continue to “get their hands dirty” for a myriad of reasons. It gives them an authentic connection with employees and customers. It widens their perspectives beyond the hierarchy and sales. And it’s honestly refreshing when you see executives who are passionate about solving technical and business problems and seeing creations come to life. – Neil Lampton, TIAG

To Address Customer Pain Points And Ensure Product Integrity

Whether and how often a CTO should code depends on the stage of the company. Most early-stage startups need CTOs to write code because the company lacks the necessary people and expertise. As the company grows to include a proper organizational structure, CTOs can transition to strategy. However, they should still be involved with design and code reviews and work closely with engineering teams to address customer pain points and ensure product integrity. – Mayank Sikaria, Sibros

To Develop A Thorough Understanding Of New Tech

“O” is the most important letter in “CTO,” so coding doesn’t define a person in this role. Still, having a deep and thorough understanding of technology is necessary. Coding is a small piece of that puzzle, so sure, they could indulge in that. More importantly, they should continuously learn about newer technology and its nuances and implications. Reading and watching educational videos could be just as pertinent as coding. –Shashank Tiwari,, Inc.

To Unlock Imagination And Vision

I don’t think it’s possible to understand how technologies work without actually setting them up and trying them out. It’s not just coding for coding’s sake, but for the experience. Not only does this help you avoid pitfalls and see through vendor marketing, but it also unlocks your imagination about what’s possible. Your company is counting on you for this vision, and it’s worth the time investment. – Jeff Williams, Contrast Security

To Keep Their Skills Sharp

A CTO should code to keep their skills sharp as tech evolves, but they shouldn’t work on anything that goes into production, because they don’t have time to take continuous ownership of live code. My approach is to reserve one day a week for hands-on coding, using the same tools our engineers do as well as our own product, because feeling tech is as important as understanding it intellectually. – Bernd Greifeneder,Dynatrace

To Stay At The Intersection Of Business And Technology

It is a well-understood fact that an effective CTO must sit at the intersection of business and technology. Just since the mid-2000s, we have moved through building microservices, functional programming, lambda functions, cloud adoption and infrastructure as a service provisioning of resources. How could any CTO afford not to code to maintain their position? – Amandeep Midha, Traive Finance

To See The Value In New Technology

New and emerging technologies will change the way an enterprise operates. This disruption needs to be capitalized on by the CTO. To understand new technologies, CTOs need to get their hands dirty to see the value in technology adoption. In addition to coding, there are also online videos from YouTube, Open edX (academia) and other sources that can help CTOs stay up to date on the latest tech. – Bhagvan Kommadi, Quantica Computacao

To Foster Better-Informed Decision Making

As a CTO, I find it essential to keep writing code. The key is to pick coding projects that aren’t in the critical path of delivering the core product, such as building value-added tools or partner integrations. By continuing to write just a little code, I can stay up to date with technology trends and keep a closer eye on our product architecture, which leads to more informed decision making. – Dave Mariani, AtScale

To Be A More Effective Problem Solver

If a CTO doesn’t continue to code, it could lead to a lack of trust, respect and credibility in the eyes of the engineering staff. The biggest problem would be a lack of understanding of the most challenging problems. I will always love coding; giving it up would make me less effective at solving complex problems and understanding and relating to what our teams are dealing with. Coding at any level is one place you can have it all; you just have to choose it. – Jim Parkinson, North American Bancard

To Be A Better Team Leader

The answer really depends on the scale of the organization and the size of the team working under the CTO. I subscribe to the school of thought that CTOs should code, but if that’s not feasible at work, at a minimum they should have hobby projects at home so they can experiment with relevant new technologies. I have been practicing this myself for the last few years, and it has helped me better guide my tech teams! – Brian Sathianathan,

To Stay In Touch With The Work They Love

C-level execs still deserve the opportunity to do things they love and are good at (despite the fact that most of the time, they will do neither). A CTO can code, but it’s best for them to do quick projects. The reality is they may get pulled into other work before a project is complete, and no one wants the person who’s holding up the release to be the same person who’s in charge of the team. – Lewis Wynne-Jones, ThinkData Works

To Learn And Grow As A Technologist

As a CTO, I believe the work is about entrepreneurship and passion—these are critical for a growing, thriving technology company. I am a big proponent of the player-coach mentality. If you enjoy coding and working on projects directly, making the time to do so is important. I do love building businesses and developing others, but I also need to explore, learn and grow as a technologist. – Jonah Kowall,

To Inspire The Team About The Organization’s Vision

CTOs should embrace continuous learning and always be prepared to “get their hands dirty.” It could range from creating detailed design specifications to creating a prototype that articulates an implementation approach to committing production code. For a CTO, these activities entail leveraging their core experience to tackle complexity, “walking the talk” and convincing the team to join hands in their vision. – Shine Xavier, DLTLedgers

To Know What Their Employees Are Dealing With

I’ve learned one thing from my years as a leader: Sticking to the job doesn’t mean you’re not professionally flexible. Lending a hand, evaluating code or spending time coding is the difference between providing support and having unclear professional competencies. Besides that, a CTO should have coding experience on their own so that they know what their employees are dealing with each day. – Jacob Mathison, Mathison Projects Inc.

To Communicate Effectively With Engineers

A CTO’s objective is to reach the organization’s digital ambitions and meet business goals through technology. They must develop the right technological vision and bring clarity around how to get there. CTO should be capable of coding to create empathy and communicate efficiently with the engineers. However, I don’t think they should be part of the development team in midsize or large organizations. – Pablo Junco, Microsoft

Previously published on Forbes.