Many businesses experience a growing need for a general overseer who can utilize business and technology skills, along with the knowledge to make decisions from a technical perspective. That person would be a chief technology officer.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics claims that the job outlook for top executives is anticipated to grow by 8% between 2020 and 2030. Additionally, as of May 2023, CTOs specifically earned an annual average of $321,417.
Let’s take a closer look at what defines a chief technology officer, including the skills and responsibilities expected out of those who fulfill this position, the steps to take in your educational journey to get there, and how this career differs from similar paths found within the industry.
The definition of a chief technology officer
A chief technology officer is an individual in charge of an organization’s technological processes. The job description involves handling the company’s digital needs and determining whether there’s a technical solution that can help it reach its business goals and objectives.
The chief technology officer works under the organization’s chief executive officer (CEO) but is also seen as a key figure who brings the company together, for this individual plays a critical role in the workplace, too.
A CTO is a job title, but it can also be considered an umbrella term that covers multiple “hats.” These professionals must have the ability to understand the customer, the vision to see how technology works, the flexibility to adapt as the tech does, a wide range of business knowledge and so much more. Last but not least, they must be effective communicators and team leaders.
What Are the Key Duties of a Chief Technology Officer?
While responsibilities can vary from one company to another, each chief technology officer is expected to assess and oversee tasks concerning tech strategy and research and development.
Additional responsibilities include:
- Assessing technological trends;
- Identifying internal risks and opportunities for internal growth;
- Monitoring and managing content management systems;
- Educating staff on all technological standards and compliance regulations;
- Managing and encouraging the research and development of new IT and digital devices used in the workplace;
- Conducting frequent device inspections to ensure they remain applicable (and helpful) to the daily workflow.
In general, the CTO should serve as the face of the company in terms of new technology and digital solution implementation, constantly thinking about using tech to make informed business decisions.
Chief Technology Officer (CTO) vs Chief Information Officer (CIO)
A chief technology officer (CTO) and chief information officer (CIO) both have core roles that fall under the executive management departments of many companies. A CIO looks internally to enhance the IT and technological infrastructure of an organization. Meanwhile, a CTO aims to enhance the external functionality of a company through tech, such as building customer experience and reaching sales goals.
Here are a few additional differences between the roles of a CTO and CIO to help you establish where each plays in the overall success of a company.
Chief technology officers:
- Discovers new technology that will grow or scale a company;
- Strategizes to improve a company’s products or services;
- Utilize their knowledge to increase the revenue of a company.
Chief information officers:
- Work closely with the infrastructure of a company, discovering new technology that can enhance cybersecurity and consolidating systems and software to make internal work more efficient. On the other hand;
- Research new systems that will enhance functionality and reach internal goals;
- Use their knowledge of technology to increase the profitability of a company.
These considerations may also help you determine if the role of a chief technology officer is relevant to you or if you are better suited to follow a career path more situated within the IT realm.
How Is the Role of the Chief Technology Officer Evolving?
The role of the chief technology officer has changed over the past few years, especially as the pandemic forced many workplaces to adjust to remote employees and virtual collaboration. Understanding how this job has evolved is necessary to ensure you are developing the right skills and accumulating the proper knowledge to succeed. The CTO role will likely evolve further while you complete your education and amass relevant industry experience.
CTOs must be able to push themselves beyond their comfort zones to support multiple workflows and continue to pursue emerging and advancing technologies at all times. Especially since the pandemic permanently changed the face of technology within most organizations, CTOs must be prepared to continually expect the unexpected and have the tech-savviness to know exactly what tech is needed to protect their organization.
What Are the Skills Needed to Become a Chief Technology Officer?
Tech professionals who want to become chief technology officers must have the skills and knowledge to oversee product development while managing other technological tasks. Beyond understanding the technology, cyber security, coding, and other immediate knowledge related to the digital world, an effective chief technology officer should master the following skills to be successful.
- Leadership: The most important skill for any executive is the ability to lead. No matter how many people are working under the chief technology officer, this person must be able to properly guide employees and take authority over major projects;
- Patience: Chief technology officers have their job titles for a reason; they likely have more education, experience, and skill than those working under them. This means that others may not be as quick to learn and understand, so patience is necessary;
- Communication: All CTOs must have excellent written and verbal communication skills to properly translate business and technical information to colleagues and partners. This is critical from both a speaking and listening point of view;
- Time management: CTOs are executives and have demanding workloads. Without time management skills, it can be difficult to manage these tasks and ensure there’s a steady workflow;
- Mentoring: Leaders should constantly find ways to mentor peers. This allows all parties involved to grow from a personal and professional perspective.
Mastering the above skills can help prospective CTOs work toward the executive positions they seek. CTOs must be innovators in their field, being one step ahead of the competition
Successful chief technology officers must always be forward-thinking when it comes to discovering new technologies — this skill will be beneficial to meeting the goals of the organization. If the competition is experimenting with new technologies to boost their workflows and reach their goals, so too should the CTO of that organization remain ahead and stay relevant.
How To Become a Chief Technology Officer
If you’re interested in pursuing a career as a CTO, you must build years of experience in technology or business. This can be done by taking online courses offered by an accredited establishment. Additionally, pursuing a master’s degree can be a necessary step.
Enrolling in an online Bachelor of Science in Information Systems or Master of Science in Management Information Systems program for more opportunities in different industries, can help you make the connection between business and technology, and provide the education needed to become a CTO.
Most programs combine the knowledge of business, strategy, security, and leadership so you have the modern technology and business-savvy skills needed to take on a position as a CTO. Other programs include concentrations, such as IT management which focuses on leadership skills needed in the business and technology world — perfect for those who want to pursue an executive role.
Being able to transform with technology and help organizations evolve and embrace change will help you stand out from the crowd. Because most CTOs have years of experience, continuing your education while you work in the tech field will help you maintain your abilities while developing new ones pertinent to the changing world.
Broaden Your Horizons
An online Master of Science in Management Information Systems (MIS) program merges the worlds of technology and business so you can improve your communication and leadership skills to thrive in both industries. An MIS degree can help prepare you for a career in IT governance, business intelligence, data security, or project management — all of which can thrive under a chief technology officer.
One of the major benefits of this type of program is its flexibility. Many people shy away from the idea of going back to school because they don’t have the opportunity to take time away from work to achieve educational goals.
An online MSMIS program is perfect for those who can’t put their career on hold; it’s 100% online with part- and full-time options available. This allows you to grow your expertise without stepping back from your current position.
CTO Career Outlook
A Technology Officer Pulse Survey reported that 71% of CTOs don’t have an internal ready-now successor in mind. More organizations have begun taking the necessary steps to implement a succession plan that will effectively bring future CTOs up to speed.
Such plans must have more than one strong contender in the pipeline ready to succeed.
In the survey, CTOs explain what precedence they looked for when searching for a suitable succession. 41% reported digital transformation as their top strategic priority; many also reported that this was one of the roles much needed when transforming talent to match the role of CTO.
With the knowledge that companies are retaining expert tech talent who can transform an organization, those seeking a career path that will lead them into the CTO role could leverage their abilities now to set themselves up as the perfect candidate years into a company or within an industry.