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.Read More
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.