What is a CTO?
The pathway to becoming a Chief Technology Officer (CTO), which is one of the highest-ranking C-suite positions in any organization, begins with any technology or information-based position. To reach this prestigious level in one’s career, individuals will require experience within the fields of both technology and business. A balance of these fields provides the necessary insights to be able to lead at this level. While a technical degree may not be necessary, at least a bachelor’s degree of some kind is often a requirement for these roles. And a growing number of these positions now require or prefer a master’s degree and strong business acumen.
Steps to Becoming a Chief Technology Officer
Generally, a CTO is one of the most executive positions in an organization. They are in charge of managing all aspects of technology, including strategy, software development, innovation, cyber security, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and more. There are two primary types of CTOs, which are a technical lead and an operational lead. The overall daily tasks of a CTO will depend upon which type of CTO the organization requires.
Step 1: Education
Step 2: Work Experience
Step 3: Certifications
Step 4: Advanced Degrees
Step 4: Mentorships
Step 1: Education
In the past, a person could become a CTO without a degree. Today, a minimum of a bachelor’s degree will likely be necessary for such high-level roles. The type of bachelor’s degree is less important than experience in business and technology, and degree preference will likely be different with each employer. Some organizations will prefer a more technical-based degree or major such as computer science, information systems, information technology, database administration, cyber security, and more. Other employers will prefer a business-based degree or major from their CTO candidates including management information systems, business administration, operations, and more. While the degree is essential, it is only one crucial step in becoming a CTO.
Step 2: Work Experience
The work experience of a candidate will also have a significant influence over whether or not an individual is qualified for a CTO position. Currently, a large percentage of CTOs started out their careers programming in various languages. It’s possible to work in front-end or back-end roles. Any type of technical background with hands-on experience will be ideal before someone applies for a CTO position.
It will also be highly beneficial if an individual works in a more business-forward role prior to becoming a CTO. These positions can be in the form of a management position; however, such experience can also be completed by working on collaborative projects with individuals in a wide array of departments such as operations, marketing, sales, accounting, and others. And CTOs typically spend much time fine-tuning their technical skills over the years with certifications to ensure they remain on top of the latest trends and challenges.
Step 3: Certifications
Certifications are a critical component of any successful technology career. Given the fact that technology changes so quickly and that industries are constantly being disrupted, individuals with technology-related careers have to remain current on these trends, skills, and changes. Certifications are available in many different areas and specializations including skill development, professional organizations, leadership, and others.
The type of certification an individual chooses should be strategic based on their current role as well as career aspirations. It’s often necessary to complete certifications for career advancement and to maintain proficiency in any role as a way to remain current in ever-changing trends and technologies. Keep in mind that many employers may reimburse an individual for these certifications, as long as they are relevant to their current role. And each certification will increase your earning potential, either in your current position or a future career move.
Step 4: Advanced Degrees
Most of the top companies who employ a CTO will require or prefer at least a master’s degree. The type of master’s degree is also important. Because this position requires both technology and business skills, many prospective CTO’s will pursue MBA degrees with technology concentrations. These degrees perfectly pair both the business and technology skills and education that are necessary to become successful CTOs. It’s also possible to complete a master’s degree in various fields of technology and information management. These degree types will be more technology-forward yet also address many aspects of business and management.
A PhD is also becoming a bit more mainstream these days for CTO roles. While this is still relatively uncommon, many individuals are choosing to complete a PhD as a way to stand out amongst the competition and as a way to earn higher salaries.
Step 5: Mentorships
Another critical component to becoming a CTO is to seek out mentorships early and often. Mentorships will help prospective CTOs to learn everything about the role before applying. Many people will start a mentorship as soon as they consider the idea of becoming a CTO. This will vary for each person. Some people know their overall career goals after their first job, whereas others may have a more gradual and unceremonious approach to reaching the C-suite.
Either way, you should consider pursuing mentorships in a variety of areas so that you can approach this career with a well-rounded perspective and understand each component of the complex roles and responsibilities of a successful CTO including sales, project management, solution architecture, lead development, business leadership, senior consulting, and others. When starting a mentorship, many individuals find it more beneficial to learn about the area rather than to try mimicking the mentor so that an individual can become the best CTO possible in their own reflection rather than in the reflection of another.
What Does a Chief Technology Officer Do?
The roles and responsibilities of a CTO will vary based on one’s employer and any other technology-related C-suite positions within an organization such as a CISO, CIO, or CSO. Primarily, it is the main objective of a CTO to have a solid comprehension of, and the ability to implement, various technologies designed to meet the overall goals of an organization. These executives will be in charge of various business activities including the implementation of a strong infrastructure, the planning of technological needs, a highly targeted customer focus, and the use of thought leadership.
These technology professionals will also have a role in many additional aspects including supervisory responsibilities, detailed reviews and examinations of technology trends, the establishment of performance and business goals, strategic decision making, resource allocation, technology management, privacy and security standards, research, report generation, and much more. It will also be essential that a successful CTO be able to collaborate and communicate with other team members and executives at all levels. Most will work in an office environment; however, it is becoming increasingly common and popular for CTOs, much like all tech careers, to work remotely or to engage in a hybrid work environment of both an office and remote working as well as to oversee workers who make use of a remote work option.
Skills to Acquire
A successful and effective CTO will have a variety of essential skills. It will be imperative to develop both hard skills and soft skills. Regarding hard skills, CTOs must have a great understanding of technologies, from software and hardware to data and cyber security, as has been mentioned.
Soft skills are equally as important as hard skills for CTOs, such as:
- Strategic Thinking
- Critical Thinking
- Customer Service
- Hiring Selection
- Interpersonal Skills
- Time Management
Keep in mind that CTOs must constantly be educating themselves. The dynamic careers in technology require up-to-date skills, perspectives, visions, and mindsets as well as the understanding of trends and emerging technologies. And don’t forget to sharpen your business skills whenever possible. Additional aspects that are highly critical for CTOs is to have a strong sense of ethics, to lead by example, and to take accountability for one’s actions. While these are important aspects of any job anywhere in the world, it is particularly important for C-suite executives.
The fastest pathway to CTO is not necessarily the only way to securing a CTO position. It’s highly possible that an individual could become a CTO without a degree. Some people are naturally gifted in various technology arenas. These individuals can advance to executive roles without a degree as long as they have the right experience and a proven track record of success. It’s also possible to reach the heights of CTO with certifications over degrees. Again, it will be necessary to complete the right certifications and gain the right experience.
Another possible way to reach chief technology officer status in an alternative manner is to make a career change or to have a business background and experience in specific industries or for certain companies. If someone has a business degree and has worked for a technology or information-related organization for years, they could become a CTO. Those with non-tech degrees who decided to change careers after 10 or 20 years could also become a CTO with the right experience and certifications.
Chief Technology Officer Career & Salary
Where Might You Work?
A wide array of organizations might employ a CTO such as large corporations, medium enterprises, tech startups, government agencies, non-profits, and more. It’s important to note that not all businesses will hire a CTO, even if they fall within those types of organizations previously mentioned. The need for a CTO is often determined by the CEO or the board of directors.
The type of industry in which an organization operates might also influence the need for a CTO. Large corporations in the technology industry are most likely to have CTO positions. Also, technology companies in general are typically quick to adapt to a more extensive C-suite that includes a CTO. As technology integrates into every aspect of consumers’ daily lives and business operations, the greater the need for CTOs. As such, more and more industries are in search of CTO professionals.
According to BLS, the field of top executives is expected to increase by 4% through 2029. This growth can be directly attributed to the new technologies that continue to disrupt industries to their core. As a result, businesses are struggling to find their way through keeping up with technology, privacy, and security while maintaining their overall course of objectives. The growing integration of applications and devices from a wide array of sources is complicating operations and creating dangerous technology environments for all businesses both big and small. And a large number of retiring executives will leave numerous CTO roles open across the United States.
It’s also a good idea to consider a specialization in specific industries for increased job security as certain industries are also contributing to CTO growth over others. Banking and finance are becoming increasingly dependent on technology and security. The demand for CTOs with experience in these areas continues to increase each year. Remember that the most desirable CTO candidates have a well-balanced resume of both business and technology. And all management occupations related to computer and information systems are expected to grow at an even higher rate of 12%.
Currently, the average salary for a CTO is $163,016 each year. Because growth is expected, and a number of CTOs with less experience will be entering into these positions, it’s likely that the average salary will remain similar to this figure over the years.
The path to becoming a CTO will be different for everyone; however, many jobs can lead to this executive position. It’s possible to start with technical roles and advance through management. However, it’s also possible to simply be an industry expert in a field while completing certifications. An individual can also choose to be more technical or more operational in their approach to becoming a CTO.
- Application Development Director:
An application development director is responsible for the planning, coordinating, and supervising of various application projects. This director position also oversees the designing, developing, and implementing of application analysis and development. The overall goal of such projects is to improve upon operational functionality and to increase outside sales.
- Chief Information Officer (CIO):
A CIO is another C-suite position in the technology arena. However, the CIO differs from the CTO in that these professionals focus on the construction, maintenance, and upgrades of the entire IT framework. This role includes making critical decisions relating to purchasing, installing, upgrading, and improving equipment and systems.
- Chief Information Security Officer (CISO):
The CISO is one of the newest additions to the C-suite in recent years. These are the cyber security executives who work to manage all information, devices, and security throughout the organization. This role is critical to the overall success of an organization by reducing the risk associated with cyber-threats and minimizing the operational downtime associated with cyber-attacks.
- Chief Executive Officer (CEO):
A CEO is considered to be the head of an organization. The role of these individuals will depend greatly on whether or not the organization is private or publicly traded. For those in a public company, the CEO will likely report to a board of directors. Some private companies will have an advisory board to assist the CEO. Either way, all CEOs are responsible for the direction and guidance of the organization as a whole.
- IT Consultant:
Many individuals prefer the role of an IT consultant over the executive role. These individuals evaluate and analyze the IT of existing organizations and make recommendations on areas for improvement. They may specialize in infrastructure, hardware, software, servers, systems, networks, and more. It’s possible that an IT consultant will be hired for a project, to train a team or even to assess a department or an entire organization.
- Data Operations Director:
A data operations director utilizes various tools to develop strategic methodologies within data analytics. These individuals will be responsible for overseeing the way data is collected and used within an organization. These data professionals will also ensure each department collaborates with the others so that everyone has access to essential data to improve upon their jobs.
- Information Technology Director:
An IT director is often a steppingstone to a CTO position. The primary role of an IT director is to manage and provide leadership regarding a number of technical perspectives within each department including hardware testing, software deployment, application development, contract deployment, budget distribution, and more.
- Information Systems Manager:
The IS manager will focus on the evaluation, selection, implementation, and management of desktop and network needs, such as encryption, information security, network management, mobile device protection, and antivirus updates. These individuals often have to work nights, weekends, and holidays to keep the organization operational and secure at all times.
Advancing from Here
While a CTO is a C-suite executive position, it is possible to take on additional responsibilities within the C-suite to find additional career advancement opportunities, such as CISO, CIO, or CEO. You could also choose to expand into consultancy if you excel at creating an effective technology strategy and no longer wish to be responsible for the execution of such plans. Or you could strike out on your own and start a business or go into the non-profit sector.
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