The chief technology officer (CTO) role is critical for organizations that want to better understand recent and powerful innovations and use them in their own operations. CTOs enhance services and experiences internally for organizations as well as for their customers. If you want to make a direct, technological impact on daily operations and procedures, and create innovative solutions that support high-level business decisions, this could be an exciting and enriching career choice.
With the right combination of education and experience, you can effectively build a comprehensive skill set that drives a forward-facing tech strategy. In turn, you can support continued company growth, enhanced security, increased agility and more positive customer experiences.
If you’re wondering how to become a CTO, keep reading to learn about common career paths and average salaries, important responsibilities, educational requirements and degree programs designed to build your qualifications.
What you should know before becoming a CTO
Since CTOs are part of the executive suite, these roles often require advanced experience to effectively lead an organization’s technology operations. You may need to develop experience in using, managing and implementing technology and build your understanding of business operations as well.
CTOs tend to focus on policy and overarching strategy in relation to hardware and software. They pay close attention to new developments related to emerging technologies that can benefit their company. Identifying connections between cutting-edge tools and business use cases is a critical responsibility.
Other key responsibilities of a CTO include:
- Building and maintaining relationships with technology providers and partners.
- Creating and updating the company’s technology strategy.
- Managing an organization’s technology and IT budget.
- Overseeing technology deployment and management.
Skills needed to succeed as a CTO
Just as there are two main areas in which CTOs must build knowledge, the most relevant skills for these leaders tend to follow either a management or technical classification. While broadly useful talents like critical thinking and analytical decision-making also come into play, many key abilities are related to the following two areas.
Management skills for CTOs
Perhaps the most important management skill for a CTO is to effectively connect business goals and strategies with emerging and existing technologies. Finance, resource management, analysis and more can all come into play, both for this task specifically and for the job’s general duties.
CTOs must be effective communicators, capable of taking information from technical specialists and accurately conveying it to executives, directors and other high-level staff who may lack advanced knowledge in that area. Similarly, they must translate potentially complex business objectives and plans into language that technology-focused professionals can understand. A CTO serves a vital conduit of information and strategy within a company, keeping both the executive suite and the staff who work under them informed and updated.
General management abilities are also vital for positive outcomes. CTOs must build and implement technological policies, which requires strong abilities related to delegation, organizing teams, process development and much more. If a particularly complex problem or major opportunity arises related to a CTO’s areas of responsibility, it’s often up to that executive to address it. This means an ability to think and act quickly yet carefully is also especially valuable.
Technical skills for CTOs
Most CTOs need a strong background in areas like coding, IT management and research and development for new technology. Security may also be a part of a CTO’s responsibilities, requiring the ability to understand, implement and assess both threats and solutions.
While much of the day-to-day work of managing and maintaining technology will fall to other staff members, CTOs play key roles in implementations, exploring opportunities related to technology, addressing time-sensitive technological issues and more. The ability to not only navigate and contribute to these processes on the technical level, but lead them as well, is crucial.