When choosing to pursue a degree in Management Information Systems, it can be difficult to fully grasp the career options upon graduation. As technology continues to drive business decisions and direction, tech-savvy roles grow in importance.
A 2023 study by Deloitte highlighted the importance of technological leadership in business. The tech leaders surveyed found their roles expanded, with organizations expecting these leaders to drive tech initiatives within a company. Companies’ need for C-suite roles with technical expertise is a natural extension of that expansion.
Some of the most prominent of these roles are Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Chief Technology Officer (CTO). Both roles sound similar on the surface and require similar leadership skills, but there is a key distinction in how they manage a company’s relationship with technology.
What Is a Chief Information Officer (CIO) of a Company?
The chief information officer is an executive who strategizes technology initiatives for the company. Since the emergence of cloud computing, hybrid workspaces, and big data analytics, a CIO is responsible for managing these new expectations and developing a plan for staying on top of emerging technology.
While the day-to-day management of computer systems falls to the chief operations officer (COO) of IT, the CIO plays a primary role in selecting new systems and technologies that will help their business run efficiently.
What is a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) in Business?
A chief technology officer holds an executive role focused on the growth of the business by developing technology customers want to buy. They manage the development and delivery of the company’s technology products and services in a manner aligned with the company’s goals and standards.
In the case an organization does not sell technology as a service, a CTO is the person behind developing the company’s own websites, applications, and digital customer engagement tools. In short, they hold a deep understanding of the technical needs of the business.
Key Differences Between a CIO and CTO
Though both C-suite careers play a part in a company’s technological use, the actual roles they play are quite different. The CIO looks for ways to make internal technology improvements, whereas the CTO is external-facing and works toward using technology to make the company more attractive to customers.
For example, a CIO would approach artificial intelligence (AI) to improve the lives of the company’s developers, whereas a CTO would use AI to better collect data for their marketing and sales teams.
As a result, these disciplines often follow separate career paths. A CIO typically will not transition into the CTO role and vice versa because of these basic differences. The CIO is so focused on a company’s internal tech use that shifting toward making external-facing business decisions based on sales can represent a huge shift in expertise — and the same is true for the reverse. Both roles require different skill sets, and have different paths for progression.
Does a Company Need Both a CIO and a CTO?
Businesses need someone to look out for their internal systems just as much as they need an innovator to improve their offerings. As such, both a CIO and a CTO are valuable assets for a company.
Required Skills and Education
Both positions require some technical and organizational knowledge. This includes skills like project management, social media, IT governance, business intelligence, and data security. However, the individual roles have more specific demands.
CIO Skills and Education
This role requires a deep understanding of information technology and data management, but also business strategy and operations. Leadership and communication skills are key, as you’ll be working closely with other department heads and possibly reporting directly to the CEO.
Many organizations will require candidates to hold a bachelor’s degree in information technology, computer science, business administration, or a related field as a minimum requirement. However, many CIOs also hold a master’s degree, often with a focus on information systems or technology management. This helps to build and reinforce skills in leadership, management, and strategy.
CTO Skills and Education
In addition to strong technical skills, CTOs need to have a strategic mindset to guide the technological direction of the company. They must also have strong project management and leadership skills to oversee a development team.
A bachelor’s degree in computer science, software engineering, or a related field is typically a requirement. A master’s degree in a relevant field like computer science or engineering can be beneficial, especially for more technically demanding companies. CTOs may also find value in pursuing an MBA to gain business and management skills.
According to PayScale, the average chief information officer of a company will earn around $173,551 per year. However, you may earn more or less depending on where you live in the U.S. and the experience you have.
You can add more responsibilities and demonstrate higher decision-making skills to advance even further in your career. By identifying areas where IT can help achieve business goals, CIOs can be proactive in initiatives like new technology implementations, or process improvements.
Taking initiative like this shows leadership, and a willingness and preparation to take on more responsibilities. It also helps to build a better understanding of a market. The higher you climb, the more potential you’ll have to advance to a CEO position as you demonstrate related capabilities.
On average, a chief technology officer in the U.S. will earn around $173,227 per year, with the range landing between $95,000 and $256,000, according to Payscale.
Zippia also specifies that you can earn more depending on the industry you work in. Some of the highest-paying industries for a CTO are:
Your salary will also fluctuate depending on your location, education, certifications, and the number of years you’ve been in the industry.
How To Choose Between a CTO and a CIO Career Path
Your choice of building a career path to either a CTO and CIO will depend largely on your professional interests, skill set, and long-term career goals. The CIO role is more about IT management than product development. If you’re interested in optimizing internal processes and helping align technology with business strategy, the CIO career path may be more fulfilling.
If you have more interest in the external, customer-facing side of technology and product development, the CTO career path may be more appealing.