What Is a Chief Technology Officer and What Do They Do?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 23 August 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

The chief technology officer (CTO) is a senior executive who controls the technological requirements of a company. They're usually the highest-level information technology (IT) professionals in a company. Understanding the duties, responsibilities and qualifications of a CTO can help you determine if this career is right for you. In this article, we define the role of CTOs, explore their qualifications, learn how to become one and answer some of the frequently asked questions about the position.

What does a chief technology officer do?

The chief technology officer's primary duty is to make all decisions that are related to a company's technological needs. They ensure that the hardware, software and technology processes are efficient and effective in supporting the clients and members of a company. Other duties and responsibilities of a CTO may include:

  • Creating a strategy for using IT systems within an organisation for maximum output or productivity

  • Making sure that the company uses its technology profitably and efficiently

  • Developing and implementing goals for a company's research and development department

  • Creating and implementing quality assurance and data protection processes

  • Assessing current technology infrastructure and updating it when necessary

  • Monitoring and evaluating IT budgets

  • Executing IT projects that are aimed at improving customer satisfaction

  • Communicating technology strategies to employees and stakeholders

  • Keeping themselves abreast of the latest technology trends and integrating this knowledge into the company's technological approach

  • Approving the design of new software, communication systems and IT infrastructure

  • Mentoring and training managers and employees on technological expectations and implementations

Related: 40 Best Online Jobs To Help You Achieve a Work-Life Balance

How to become a CTO

Here are the steps you can take if you want to become a successful CTO:

1. Get a bachelor's degree

Most CTO positions require at least a bachelor's degree. Common bachelor degrees in this career include digital media, data science, computer science or a related field. These specialisations can set the foundation for your job as a CTO and familiarise you with topics such as data integrity, cyber law and programming.

Related: Choosing a Career Path in 11 Steps

2. Pursue an advanced degree

If your goal is to become a successful CTO, you may need to earn an advanced degree, in addition to a bachelor's degree. Earning an advanced degree, such as a master's or doctorate degree, can prepare you for the business aspect of this role. It also further enhances your technical expertise. You can get your advanced degree in fields such as online cybersecurity, business administration or a related field.

3. Gain on-the-job experience

To increase your chances of getting hired as a CTO, it's important to gain on-the-job experience in a role related to IT. Companies usually require you to have at least five to ten years of experience before they consider you for an executive or management level role. Positions such as those In web software development, information security management and security engineering can all provide you with valuable experience.

Related: How to Write Work Experience on a CV (With Examples)

4. Earn relevant certifications

The most common certifications for CTOs relate to their leadership role and their company's technology environment. These include:

  • Software certifications: The best software certifications to include on a CTO CV may depend on which software applications the company you may plan to interview with uses. Some software certifications that apply to CTOs include Certified ScrumMaster, Information Technology Infrastructure Library and other certifications specific to computer software applications like Google Developers Certification.

  • Project management: Project management certifications like PMI Agile, CompTIA Project+ and Certified Associate in Project Management can help CTO's learn useful skills and may look great on a CV.

5. Apply for a promotion

Once you have obtained the necessary experience and education, you can start your search for an open CTO position. Consider searching within your current organisation or apply for CTO jobs in other companies. You can also use your professional network to find open CTO positions. If possible, apply for a position that's relevant to the industry you're most familiar with.

Key skills for a CTO

In addition to having excellent technological skills, many successful CTOs also have the following skills:

Leadership skills

A CTO usually works at a company's executive level. This can mean that they oversee teams and managers to make sure that they're performing their duties and responsibilities to the best of their ability. Successful CTOs use leadership skills to assign tasks, communicate with employees and provide training when necessary.

Related: 10 Leadership Skills To Highlight In Your Resume

Communication skills

To excel as a CTO, it's important to have oral and written communication skills. It's vital to communicate the IT needs of a company and modify existing systems or implement new ones. It's also important to be good at composing reports about the technical performance of a company and providing constructive feedback.

Related: 10 Effective Communication Skills for Career Success

Decision-making skills

Working as a CTO may involve making critical decisions related to the systems used within a company. For instance, you may decide to buy new systems or allocate sources in a way that helps boost productivity within the company. It's important to confidently make excellent decisions that can impact the organisation as a whole.

Business skills

The CTO is a leader within a company, which is why it's important for you to be familiar with the basics of running a business. It's important to understand the needs of your company and use business skills to create strategies that can improve an organisation's success.

Coding skills

While coding skills are common in web development roles, understanding code allows you to appreciate the work of the developers and how a project functions. Coding can be highly complex, and if you understand what the company requires, you can be better prepared to anticipate challenges and time-frames.

Financial skills

The day-to-day role of a CTO may require a firm grasp of complex finances and projects. It may also require a deep understanding of software licensing and resource allocation. Possessing strong financial skills can mean you can effectively manage finances or budgets for a company's technology needs.

Problem-solving skills

A CTO is responsible for various programming languages from the beginning to the end. Thus, it's important for them to solve issues that occur during the development process. They need the ability to recognise issues and look for the most effective ways to solve them through programming.

Frequently asked questions about CTOs

Here are some of the frequently asked questions about CTOs, including their answers:

Is CEO higher than CTO?

A CTO is functionally responsible for the technical aspects of a company. This could include addressing technical issues that clients encounter, maintaining technical service levels and developing software. They would usually be part of a company's management team and report to the chief executive officer (CEO). A CEO is responsible for all aspects of a company's operation. They provide vision and direction, develop the management team and monitor company morale.

How much money does a CTO make?

The average salary for a CTO is $49,466 per month. This amount varies depending on several factors, including the company, location and industry. For instance, the average salary of a CTO in Central, Hong Kong is $42,210 per month, which is significantly higher than the average in other districts. A CTO may earn more each year through compensation, such as profit sharing.

How long does it take to become a CTO?

You may need to gain at least five to ten years of experience before you can apply to a director or manager role. Once you're in a managerial position, you may have to spend an additional five to 10 years honing your business and leadership skills before you can apply for a CTO position. In general, you may need to spend at least 15 years prior to seeking employment as a CTO. This experience can be crucial for developing the necessary skills to lead an entire company's technology strategy.

What is the work environment of CTO like?

A CTO spends a lot of time in a workplace setting. It's a regular job and you can enjoy working at an office desk, and typically in a secure environment. The job may also involve travel, especially when the company requires you to meet with the client in another office. A CTO may need to travel overseas to provide supervision or guidance to other branch employees or to attend conferences and meetings.

Job shifts are usually part of a full-time career as a CTO. While CTO performs full-time operations, shifts may vary depending on their workload. A CTO usually works on a daily shift, but they need to work overtime to complete work or entertain clients.

Can a CTO become a CEO?

Companies continue to embrace and depend on technology. Thus, the role of CTO may become the foundation of a company, allowing them to move up the ranks to a CEO position. The current duties and responsibilities of the CTO may become the core competencies of every CEO.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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