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CTO Career Guide

How to Become a Chief Technology Officer

Those who want to secure a position as a CTO must embrace challenge and change, be willing to put in the work, and have the will and stamina to climb the IT leadership ladder. This guide outlines the skills and qualifications required to be a CTO. If your goal is to become a chief technology officer, WGU can provide the relevant knowledge, skills, and IT degrees you’ll need to prepare.

 

 

IT professionals examine a computer screen together.

What Is a CTO?

A chief technology officer (CTO) is a top executive that oversees the entire information technology department and is responsible for integrating business needs and requirements into IT planning and operations. It’s important to distinguish their role from that of chief information officers (CIOs), whose job description focuses on the technologies that run a business internally by managing its infrastructure.

Chief technology officers have a job description that focuses on creating technology to sell to customers and growing the business externally. CTOs and CIOs often work together to combine their technical and engineering knowledge for the benefit of the whole company.

 

What Does a CTO Do?

At companies big and small, chief technology officers take the lead on all technological decisions and usually report directly to the CEO, CIO, or another C-level executive. Their primary responsibility is to understand and implement technologies that help the company achieve its business goals and objectives.

All CTOs are likely to have the following responsibilities in common:

  • Leading technology teams in everyday operations.
  • Creating technology strategies for the development of an organization.
  • Monitoring management of all hardware, software, databases, and licenses.
  • Determining when a company’s systems and technology need to be updated.
  • Reviewing products or systems to determine their potential value to the company. 
  • Guiding strategic business decisions and resources allocation.
  • Staying abreast of digital trends and understanding how they can impact business.
  • Ensuring technological processes follow federal guidelines for privacy and security.
  • Reporting to the CIO or CEO about engineering success, software needs, and more.

How do I Become a Chief Technology Officer?

As with any executive position, it takes a great deal of time and work experience to become a CTO. An online bachelor's degree in business or IT is a great starting point. From there, you may want to pursue an MBA in IT, an M.S. in Technology Management, or an M.S. in Cybersecurity and Information Assurance to prepare for the business responsibilities that come with the role. A master’s degree will also put you at a competitive advantage. While a bachelor’s in IT covers the basics (such as math, software design, and programming basics). Most CTOs have a master’s degree, so if you want to prepare for this position, it’s best to obtain as much education as possible.

Best Degrees to Become a CTO

Cybersecurity and Information Assurance – M.S.

Become the authority on keeping infrastructures and information...

Become the authority on keeping infrastructures...

Become the authority on keeping infrastructures and information safe.

  • Time: 70% of graduates finish within 22 months.
  • Tuition and fees: $4,590 per 6-month term.
  • Certifications: cost of two EC-Council certs, included.

The curriculum is closely aligned with the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE) Workforce Framework, plus includes the opportunity to earn these certifications:

  • EC-Council Certified Ethical Hacker
  • EC-Council Computer Hacking Forensic Investigator (CHFI)

This program was designed in collaboration with national intelligence organizations and IT industry leaders, ensuring you'll learn emerging technologies and best practices in security governance.

Information Technology Management – M.S.

A degree for experienced IT professionals ready to lead:...

A degree for experienced IT professionals ready...

A degree for experienced IT professionals ready to lead:

  • Time: 70% of graduates finish within 20 months.
  • Tuition and fees: $4,235 per 6-month term.

Included in your program—at no extra cost—is the opportunity to earn the valuable PMI Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) certification.

Maximize the opportunities that your IT career path has afforded you—earn your master's and keep moving up. 

MBA Information Technology Management

Earn the online college degree that can move your career into IT...

Earn the online college degree that can move your...

Earn the online college degree that can move your career into IT upper management:

  • Time: Graduates can finish in 12 months
  • Tuition and fees: $4,675 per 6-month term.

Sample careers and jobs this business degree will prepare you for:

  • Chief technology officer
  • Director of IT services
  • Senior systems administrator
  • Management information systems director
  • Computer and information systems manager

Learn to navigate emergencies, execute strategies, and optimize systems with the competencies within this specialty MBA.

Compare with M.S. IT Management

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What Skills Does a CTO Need?

Chief technology officers should be skilled in a number of different areas. When you read a job description for a CTO, it’s not uncommon for it to mention these different skills and competencies. 

  • Infrastructure command. A chief technology officer should be skilled at managing the company’s overall technology roadmap, overseeing the process of implementing new technologies, maintaining networks, and securing data. 

  • Technology planning. Technology changes almost overnight, meaning businesses must be proactive to stay ahead of the curve. A chief technology officer's job responsibility is to cull through the new technologies and decide which of them best align with company goals. 

  • Consumer-focused strategy. The chief technology officer's job is often to understand the company’s target demographics and set technical projects in motion that best support a positive customer experience. 

  • Critical thinking  A CTO should be engaged in thought leadership where possible. A CTO who has a specialized understanding of technology trends and target markets and harnesses this knowledge to inform the development of corporate strategy is set up for success.

  • Business fluency. Fluency in finance, business modeling, and project management is crucial to the success of CTOs. Since they lead organizations by developing and implementing strategies, they must have a solid understanding of their company’s business needs to support them in these efforts. 

  • Communication. Successful CTOs communicate clearly with all members of the organization and are open to feedback on how products and processes can be improved. IT employees and executives alike look to them for their guidance on technology strategy and direction. 

  • Decision-making. CTOs make decisions on multiple factors that support the company’s business goals—from purchasing new technologies to implementing cost-cutting measures to changing vendors or outsourcing services. 

  • Leadership. The best CTOs have the confidence to lead multiple teams and motivate them toward a shared goal. They know that this helps drive efficiency. Successful CTOs also know how to delegate responsibilities and serve as a mentor when needed.  

  • Organization. CTOs typically manage several departments, ranging from network infrastructure to help desk support to security, ensuring that each department is staffed with the right expertise and works cohesively with one another.

How Much Does a CTO Make?

$163,000

According to PayScale, the average annual base salary for a CTO in 2021 is over $163,000. The same source shows the top 10% of chief technology officers can make over $247,000. CTO salaries obviously depend on an organization’s revenue but are also determined by an individual’s degree of knowledge in the following key areas: software architecture, IT management, strategic business management, project management. The more experience a CTO has in these areas, the bigger the paycheck. 

 

What is the Projected Job Growth?

8%

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects the number of top executive positions, including CTO positions, to increase by 8% between 2020 and 2030 which means there will be more than 209,500 projected new jobs with this title over that period.

How Long Does it Take to Become a CTO?

10+ Years

The BLS estimates that an aspiring CTO may need to have over 10 to 15 years of work experience in various IT roles before qualifying for the job. In addition to a bachelor’s and master’s degree, in order to become a chief technology officer, you need to acquire many years of real-world work experience. CTOs must have a solid foundation of high-level technical, financial, organizational, and leadership experience.

Interested in Becoming a CTO?

Learn more about degree programs that can prepare you for this lucrative career.

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