The Ascendance of Tech Execs

One of the weirdest things about the tech industry is that, despite its reverence for the Cult of the Coder, pretty much the only way a programmer or engineer gets to be senior management or in charge of a company as its CEO is by founding it. The classic pattern is that a techie founds or cofounds a technology startup, and then it either doesn’t succeed and the VCs and board push them out, or it does succeed and once the founder’s gotten sufficiently rich, they’re replaced by a business person who’s usually got a management or finance background.

But some recent counter-examples have given me a bit of hope. At Etsy, Chad Dickerson was named CEO after coming up the ranks as CTO, and this happened despite the fact that he didn’t start the company. Even more notably, Marissa Mayer was named CEO of Yahoo which is remarkable since she’s not only a product person, but someone with serious engineering chops. (Full disclosure, my Activate co-founder Michael Wolf is on Yahoo’s board and our company is thus involved with Yahoo.)

Oddly, though, there are very, very few examples of tech companies where a founder leaves or a mature company is looking for new leadership and the successor that’s named is someone who earned their opportunity for the position through technical work or development. Being a coder or engineer or having a background that’s technical shouldn’t put a ceiling on how one can advance through an organization, and I’m hoping there are lots more examples like these that I’ve somehow missed. Where are the CTOs who’ve become CEOs in major tech companies?