What does a chief technology officer do? (With salary info)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 30 June 2022

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) has a role in the future direction of a company as they are a member of the 'C-suite' or senior leadership team of their organisation. The chief technology officer is responsible for the technological needs of the organisation. When deciding if you are a good fit for a career as a CTO, it's important to understand what the role involves and the level of commitment it requires. In this article, we discuss 'what does a chief technology officer do?', the skills that make them successful, how to become a CTO and set out the salary expectations.

What does a chief technology officer do?

Learning what a chief technology officer does requires an understanding of the technology used by most companies and how they organise it. The CTO is the executive member of a company that's responsible for its technological requirements. Historically, they were also typically responsible for the research and development aspect of the business. The increasing role that technology plays resulted in most organisations removing the research and development aspects of it.

The CTO is responsible for assessing the current and future technological requirements of a company and investing in technology that assists the company in achieving its objectives and goals. This includes software, hardware and other technological processes deemed appropriate. The roles and responsibilities of a chief technology officer include:

  • developing policies and procedures relating to the use of technology

  • using technology to enhance the products and services offered to external customers

  • creating strategies for technological platforms

  • hiring the IT team

  • working with the marketing, development and operations departments to select appropriate new technologies

  • monitoring system design and architecture

  • setting standards and practices for the use of technology by staff

  • defining the strategic role of technology in the company

  • managing the technology budget of the company

  • researching and analysing the performance metrics relating to the technology of the company

Related: CTO vs VP of engineering: what's the difference?

Skills of effective chief technology officers

A successful CTO has a skill set that incorporates both the business and technological aspects of their work, comprising both soft and hard skills. Many of these skills develop as you gain experience working your way up the company ranks. The skills that successful chief technology officers commonly possess include:

  • Communication: Many of the people the chief technology officer works with don't have a background in technology. It's important that the CTO has the communication skills to convey highly technical concepts and products to the general staff in a manner that's easy to comprehend.

  • Adaptability: Each department within an organisation typically has different technological requirements. The CTO is responsible for working with each of the departments in the organisation to ascertain their requirements, then aligning this with the requirements of the organisation as a whole to determine what the most cost-effective solutions are that you can adapt to meet the requirements of most departments.

  • Leadership: The CTO is a senior executive within the firm and leads the IT department, which requires them to possess excellent leadership skills. These skills include the ability to motivate employees and to maintain an environment that's conducive to employees' ongoing professional development.

  • Diplomacy: One aspect of the role of the chief technology officer is to consider the technological requirements of the organisation as a whole and to balance them against the requirements of its individual departments. In a situation where each department is likely to prioritise its own agenda, the CTO requires a high level of diplomacy.

  • Negotiation: The CTO takes the lead in the purchase and acquisition of technology for the company, which includes the negotiation of the pricing. This requires them to be able to negotiate arrangements that convey the most benefit possible to the company at the best price.

  • Strategic planning: The long-term aspect of the role of the CTO requires a balance to be found between current and future technological requirements. The chief technology officer analyses this information in the context of the goals and objectives of the company and develops a strategic plan.

  • Coding: This usually falls into the realm of the developers, but it's important that the CTO understands their role and is able to appreciate the challenges they face as a result of the technology decisions made.

  • Decision-making: Decisions relating to technology are ultimately the chief technology officer's to make. A process for gathering and assessing information, then weighing up the options, is essential when completing this aspect of the role.

  • Research: Strong research skills are a necessity when investigating various technological solutions and adapting them to meet the company's ongoing requirements. It is necessary for these research skills to incorporate business and finance priorities, too.

  • Technological: A CTO requires strong technical skills that incorporate everything from coding to the user interface. It is also necessary for them to have a sound understanding of cybersecurity methods and to employ appropriate countermeasures.

Related: Director of technology skills: definitions and examples

How to become a chief technology officer

Follow these steps if you are interested in a career that encompasses aspects of both the business and technology fields:

1. Obtain educational qualifications

It's generally accepted that entry-level positions in this field require a minimum qualification of a bachelor's degree. Typically, a student chooses a computer or information systems-based subject. These majors include software development, computer programming, applied mathematics, management information systems and cybersecurity.

Related: Is a computer science degree worth it? (With benefits)

2. Consider an advanced qualification

Many companies might expect their chief technology officer to have a Master's Degree in Technology Management, Computer Science or Management Information Systems. While some students complete a master's degree immediately after their bachelor's, options exist for a person to return to university on a full-time or part-time basis at a later date once the qualification becomes necessary.

Related: A complete guide to an MSc degree (plus definition and FAQs)

3. Gain experience in the field

A bachelor's degree makes it possible for you to apply to a number of entry-level positions. The entry-level positions are a great opportunity to develop skills in business that haven't been a part of your formal training but are necessary as you move into managerial positions. It's beneficial to work in a range of different areas so that you develop a comprehensive understanding of the IT department and the impact the decisions of the CTO have on them.

Related: How to become a technology manager: a step-by-step guide

4. Consider a certification

One way to increase your credibility and to present as a more capable candidate for the role of chief technology officer is by pursuing a certification in an area you are looking to gain more knowledge. There is a wide range of certifications available in the technology field. There are also certifications available for the business-related aspects of the CTO role.

It's important to pay close attention to the organisation that provides the certification and the reputation that it has in the IT and business world, as all certifications may not be acceptable in the field. Most certifications require the candidate to complete an examination, with some prescribing a short course of study prior. Once you have obtained the certification, there are requirements to fulfil, usually relating to continuing education, to maintain the certification.

Related: 9 professional business certifications for a career boost

5. Advance to managerial positions

Once you have around five years of experience, you may wish to move into a junior management role. This is a good opportunity to focus on the soft skills that you might require in the future as a chief technology officer. Most CTOs have gained between eight to ten years of experience in the industry prior to pursuing this role. As you move through the hierarchy, take the opportunity to learn from those that are currently senior to you.

Related: How to be promoted to manager (with tips to help your case)

6. Apply for a chief technology officer role

Once you have good levels of experience and feel comfortable with the different aspects of the role of CTO, it's time to apply for the position. It's important that you write a CV that's specific to the role to maximise your chances of success. It's worthwhile paying close attention to how the position you are applying for is described in the advertisement for the position and ensuring you address the different requirements when writing your CV.

Related: How to become a chief technical officer (step-by-step guide)

Salary expectations

The salary of a CTO is dependent on a number of external factors, which include the location of the company, the size of the company, their level of responsibility, and the size of the tech team. The national average salary for a chief technology officer is £73,711 per year. Cambridge and London are the two best-paying cities, with each paying in excess of £100,000 per year.

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.‌

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