Chief Technology Officer Career Guide & Outlook

Learn What a Chief Technology Officer Does, the Requirements Needed and Job Growth

Are you interested in pursuing a career as a CTO? If you enjoy working with hardware, software, and databases, and have the drive to supervise daily technology operations, becoming a CTO may be a good fit for you. These professionals serve as part of a company or organization’s executive team, often managing numerous departmental crews. In most cases, CTO is the highest technology-related position available within the C-suites, which can also include a chief information officer (CIO) and chief information security officer (CISO). They create the company or organization’s technology vision and establish a plan to achieve it. CTOs also require an interest in research, as they are generally responsible for ensuring the information technology department stays ahead of competitors.

What Does a CTO Do?

While CTOs, CIOs, and CISOs all work in the information technology field, it is important to realize that these positions are distinct. Mid-to-large size companies and organizations are far more likely to have the budget to maintain all three jobs within a C-suite. The CTO, however, is the individual most likely to report directly to the CEO.

Chief Technology Officer

CTOs often oversee a company or organization’s overarching technology infrastructure. They are responsible for creating relevant technology-related policies and ensuring standards are met.

Chief Information Officer

While CTOs often focus on external processes, the CIOs role tends to involve internal operations. They usually serve in a management position for a company or organization’s information technology staff.

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What are Their Responsibilities, Common Duties, and Tasks?

Simply put, CTOs are primarily responsible for understanding, implementing, and maintaining the various technologies a company or organization uses to achieve its business goals and objectives. They are also expected to be familiar with new digital trends and how these trends might impact the entity they work for.

While the specific job requirements of a CTO can vary from position to position and often depend on the C-suite configuration, common responsibilities include:

  • Lead various technology teams in daily operations
  • Directly supervise departmental heads
  • Establish performance goals
  • Conduct technical reviews for products
  • Troubleshoot issues and develop solutions
  • Provide insight to the senior management team
  • Guide strategic technology decisions and resource allocation
  • Oversee the management of hardware, software, databases, and licenses
  • Generate projections based on future technology needs
  • Launch new technology strategies
  • Ensure protocols meet expectations and adhere to federal, state, and community privacy and security regulations

CTOs can work for companies or organizations of any size. As top executives, their actions directly correspond to the overall success of their employer. This, in conjunction with the wide assortment of responsibilities, can make the position quite stressful. It is also not uncommon for CTOs to travel frequently to attend meetings and conferences.

How to Become a CTO

The process for becoming a CTO is straight forward but does require a significant time investment. Because most employers prefer candidates have significant on-the-job experience, as well as a master’s degree, there is not much opportunity for variation in this process.

While job seekers are able to pursue their career goals at their own pace, the following steps are generally required:

  • Earn a bachelor’s degree in computer science (or a related field) from an accredited college or university

  • Find professional, entry-level employment in one of many information technology-related positions

  • Gain extensive on-the-job experience in a number of different information technology areas

  • Apply for and successfully maintain a manager and/or director position in a related field

  • Earn an optional master’s degree in computer science or a related field (MBAs may also be acceptable)

Typical Requirements for Hiring

Because CTOs have a number of important professional responsibilities, the companies and organizations that hire them generally have several hiring requirements.

While every employer is different, most expect CTO candidates to have:

  • Bachelor’s Degree
  • Professional Experience
  • Knowledge of Various Technology Areas
  • Managerial Experience
  • Master’s Degree

Bachelor’s Degree

Individuals interested in becoming CTOs must acquire the appropriate level of education before they can find professional employment. In most cases, this means earning an undergraduate degree in computer science or a related field from an accredited college or university. Programs generally consist of 120 credit hours of coursework that can be completed in four years by students who are enrolled full-time. The best programs tend to be broad and cover a variety of helpful topics in the field including database design, digital forensics, cyber law, programming, and data integrity.

Professional Experience

Graduates can begin looking for entry-level employment immediately after completing the necessary educational requirements.

Top opportunities include:

  • Software Application Developer/li>
  • Computer User Support Specialist
  • Web Developer
  • Computer System Analyst
  • Computer System Engineer
  • Software Quality Assurance Engineer
  • Information Security Analyst
  • Business Intelligence Analyst

Knowledge of Various Technology Areas

Because CTO positions are often complex and require the management of multiple information technology specialties, extensive experience in various related areas is necessary.

Those interested in this position will need to spend five to 10 years working in the following information technology areas:

  • Network Architecture
  • Big Data Engineering
  • Information Security Management
  • Security Engineering
  • Web Software Development

Managerial Experience

After attaining the appropriate amount of work experience, individuals pursuing CTO positions should begin applying for manager and/or director roles. These positions will help to further hone information technology, leadership, and supervisory skills. Most employers require that CTO candidates have at least 15 years of professional experience in the field, five to seven of which should be spent as a manager or director.

Master’s Degree

As industry standards continue to rise, more and more individuals are choosing to enroll in computer science graduate programs. While not necessarily required for employment as a CTO, many companies and organizations give preference to candidates with a master’s degree. Accredited programs generally consist of 30 credit hours and can be completed in two years by students who are enrolled full-time.

Skills Needed

A career as a CTO is not for everyone. In addition to technological expertise, these professionals must develop and hone several other important skills. The field is extremely demanding and continually changing, requiring consistent effort to remain informed and relevant.

Most successful CTOs possess the following traits:

  • Business skills necessary to demonstrate a clear understanding of company or organization needs when developing and implementing strategic plans
  • Leadership skills necessary to motivate employees to work toward and achieve a common goal
  • Decision-making skills necessary to make important company or organization decisions, including which technology to purchase and how to allocate resources
  • Organizational skills necessary to manage several departments at a time
  • Communication skills necessary to appropriately provide guidance and direction regarding technology strategies, as well as to relay important information to other company or organization executives

Cyber Security Chief Technology Officer Salary

According to PayScale, the average annual salary for CTOs is $158,500. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics also reports a median annual wage of $189,600 for chief executives in 2018. Both of these figures are well above the median annual wage of around $37,000 reported for all occupations in the United States. Entry-level professionals with less than one year of experience can expect to make around $98,000 annually, while those with 20 or more years of experience can earn as much as $181,000 a year.

It is important to realize that salary is often impacted by employer, industry, and location; the top paying cities for this occupation include the following:

  • Boston, Massachusetts
  • San Francisco, California
  • New York, New York
  • Los Angeles, California
  • Seattle, Washington

Outlook & Jobs

Overall, the outlook for CTOs is promising, though growth in top-level careers is slow. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics projects there will be 6% growth in job availability for top executives in general between the years 2018 and 2028. This isn’t much faster than the national average for other professions, but these are the highest positions at large corporations.

The major reason for this growth is an increased expansion of company and organization digital platforms. More qualified professionals will be needed to implement business goals related to information technology. Additionally, the need to bolster computer and information system cybersecurity in response to new security policies and cyber threats will result in the development of more jobs, even at the highest levels. While these professionals are essential for running companies and organizations, the creation of jobs is mostly driven by the formation of new businesses and the expansion of existing ones. Top executives will also face significant competition for open jobs as the promise of high salaries, prestige, and extensive benefits make the positions extremely attractive to qualified candidates.

Cyber Security Careers and Jobs

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The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts cyber security to be one of the fastest growing fields in the near future. The demand for these positions is on the rise and all business is going to need to keep their data safe from potential external and internal threats.

Chief Information Security Officer (CISO)

The CISO executive oversees cyber security systems and information security, as well as all departments associated with these systems.

Chief Security Officer (CSO)

These executives deal with data and physical security systems, controlling database and facility entry and all departments that deal with cybersecurity professionals and surrounding policies.

Chief Technology Officer (CTO)

This executive deals with development and implementation of computer systems. They receive organizational reports on the use and effectiveness of tech in regards to online systems security.

Computer Forensics Investigator

Analyze computers or web-based applications in the search for forensic evidence of a crime. This is done in support of the law after commission of a crime, or in efforts to assess a network's vulnerabilities.


Cryptographers are responsible for deciphering encrypted data. They might do after the commission of a crime. They also work to create better encryption to create stronger networks and safer data storage.

Incident Responder

Incident responders work with companies or governments to respond quickly after a possible threat has been detected. They find the source of the issue, determine if it’s a real threat, and discover how the incursion occurred.

Penetration Tester

Penetration testers seek to create an incursion. By doing so, they reveal the weak points of a security system so that these points can be secured better in the future.

Risk Analyst

Cyber security risk analysts spend their time looking for systems, procedures, or malware which could cause unintended negative occurrences, such as system crashes or slowdowns. They help create procedures to fix these problems quickly if they do occur.

Security Administrator

Cyber security administrators are responsible for dealing with all security and safety issues. They may create procedures or policies in order to maintain a companies overall security.

Security Analyst

A cyber security analyst maintains networks and fix issues that come up during normal operation. They may also identify threats and neutralizing them as quickly as possible.

Security Architect

This position requires you to choose or design security elements, whether physical parts that will become a part of the system or the virtual system that will provide access to all the company's data.

Security Auditor

These specialists may be kept on retainer or brought in after changes are made to a system. They provide a system-wide audit to make sure there are no chinks in the armor of the network or system.

Security Consultant

Security consultants devise security plans should they experience an incursion or help companies that are just getting started set up their security system from the ground up.

Security Director

The director of security helps create and review all policies and procedures related to security. They also ensure compliance with local or federal laws related to security concerns, such as the safety of patient data.

Security Engineer

A security engineer is responsible for creating computing systems which increases security and they solve any issues turned up by a security audit or incursion incident.

Security Manager

The security manager oversees entry level and senior security staff on a day-to-day basis, making sure staffing is steady and all issues are dealt with and reported to the highest-level security professionals.

Security Software Developer

Specializing in security software solutions, they create software for individuals to use on home computers or advanced solutions meant for multi-billion-dollar industries or even government agencies.

Security Specialist

This is an entry-level position in which a specialist may monitor or troubleshoot system or network issues. They may perform basic test procedures, reporting all activity and feedback to their manager.

Vulnerability Assessor

This security specialist tests systems for vulnerabilities, much in the same way penetration testers do. Instead of performing penetration testing, they look through applications or software for possible weaknesses and data security leaks.

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