How To Become a CTO

As our reliance on technology has increased across all areas of life, career opportunities within the tech field have expanded rapidly. This trend is expected to continue into the future, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that overall employment in computer and information technology occupations will increase by 15% from 2021 to 2031, a much faster rate than the average for all occupations.

This growth, combined with the need to replace departing workers, is expected to create about 418,500 new job openings each year. These openings represent a variety of engaging and fulfilling career paths that aspiring tech professionals can pursue.

One of the most lucrative and highest-ranking tech-related positions at many companies is the role of chief technology officer or CTO. This role, like many C-level positions, is a desirable career destination for many people. However, earning such a position requires a significant amount of time and energy, and it’s important to understand what is expected of you before embarking on this path.

What Does a CTO Do?

CTOs have the critical job of overseeing the day-to-day operational activities of the entire information technology department and ensuring that the background solutions responsible for supporting essential business processes run smoothly. They must also collaborate with other business leaders to ensure that the operations of the IT department align with the overall goals of their organization.

The typical responsibilities of CTOs in the workplace can vary significantly, but may include: researching new technologies that could improve their organization’s operations, overseeing the implementation of new technologies across departments, monitoring key performance indicators to assess the effectiveness of tech solutions, and developing new tech strategies based on stakeholders’ feedback.

What Are The Benefits of Becoming a CTO?

There are several major factors that make the position of CTO desirable. In addition to the job security offered by the positive future employment outlook for tech occupations, CTOs also enjoy some of the highest pay of any IT role.

According to Glassdoor, the average base salary for Chief Technology Officers in June 2023 was $191,286 per year. However, many employers offer their CTOs additional compensation in other forms such as equity and cash bonuses. Because of this, the estimated total pay for CTOs in June 2023 was 319,760 per year.

CTO experience can also be a launching pad for other future opportunities. These executive leaders sometimes advance further to become chief operations officers and CEOs. Others parlay their corporate experience into lucrative consulting roles that offer more flexibility and even larger paychecks.

What Skills Do You Need To Be a CTO?

To be successful as a CTO, it’s important to possess the right skills. In most cases, candidates for this position are expected to display a combination of IT and business management skills.

Technical Skills

CTOs should possess extensive technical knowledge of a wide range of areas such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, Cloud, DevOps, and more. The essential technical skills for most CTO roles include:

  • Computer programming
  • Software development
  • Cybersecurity
  • Data analysis

Additionally, technology is always evolving, and businesses are always looking for new ways to improve. Good CTOs must be willing to continuously educate themselves and stay on top of the latest tech trends. This will enable them to identify new ways to improve operations and stay ahead of their industry competitors.

Business Skills

Business skills can be highly valuable for many types of tech professionals, and the CTO role is a prime example. In addition to being IT professionals, CTOs are leaders who must collaborate with people from across departments and help guide the overall direction of the organization. This requires a variety of skills that aren’t directly related to IT, including:

  • Leadership: In addition to managing the IT department, CTOs often must oversee organization-wide initiatives and projects that require collaboration between employees from different departments; making strong leadership skills essential for success
  • Communication: Strong communication skills are hugely beneficial for supporting collaboration between departments and bridging the gap between the business and IT sides of an organization, both of which are critical aspects of the CTO role.
  • Time Management: CTOs must frequently juggle a variety of time-sensitive projects involving multiple employees. As a result, their time management skills can directly impact organizational goals and operational efficiency.
  • Mentorship: CTOs have a responsibility to their employees as well as their organization. They must be willing and able to guide and mentor their less experienced peers as they navigate various challenges and develop their own professional skills.
  • Patience: Because they must oversee the implementation of new technologies in the workplace, CTOs are expected to remain patient with their coworkers as they adapt to the new solutions and protocols. This is critical for supporting morale and ensuring smooth transitions to new systems.

These skills help CTOs guide their employees, address organizational problems, and adapt to changing industry trends as they emerge.

What Level of Education Is Required To Be a CTO?

The vast majority of CTOs hold highly technical positions before moving into the corner office. Most have programming backgrounds and maintain advanced computational skills, allowing them to expertly navigate and evaluate enterprise software options and make informed decisions.

While it is possible to acquire some of these competencies on the job, formalized educational programs work best, providing the technical and theoretical insight needed to intimately understand a wide variety of solutions. Consequently, CTOs invest heavily in their education, Information Age reported.

Many earn bachelor’s degrees in computer science and move into post-graduate business programs, where they can bolster their management skills. However, there are more streamlined instructional tracks.

For instance, earning a Master of Science degree in Management Information Systems can help aspiring CTOs build on their core programming skills, while also brushing up on cutting-edge business management techniques.

Students in an MS MIS degree program will take courses in a variety of important areas that relate to both business and technology, including business intelligence, IT governance and maintenance, information security and incident response, and business continuity.

A comprehensive MS MIS degree program will also cover areas related to product development and deployment. In courses like Technology Planning and Capital Budgeting, students will learn how to oversee and evaluate large-scale enterprise deployments.

What Type of Training and Experience Do You Need To Be a CTO?

Because CTO is a senior leadership position, most employers will require candidates to have a substantial history of relevant professional experience. According to the BLS, individuals typically need at least 15 years of IT experience to earn serious consideration for a CTO position at a large organization, though some smaller companies and start-ups may have less stringent requirements.

CTOs often start out in programming or software development positions before working their way up to higher-profile leadership roles. Candidates should have a demonstrable record of directing teams and managing successful projects to stand out.  Many employers look for candidates who also have experience in areas like sales, marketing, and finance.

CTO candidates can also demonstrate their skills by completing certification programs in relevant areas such as project management and information systems. Among the most valuable certifications for CTOs are the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) certification, and project management certifications like CompTIA Project+ and PMI Agile.



U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Computer and Information Technology Occupations”

Glassdoor, “How much does a Chief Technology Officer make?”

Indeed, “Salary vs. Compensation: What’s the Difference?”

Information Age, “The path to becoming a chief technology officer”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, ” How to Become a Computer and Information Systems Manager”