Every business reaches a point when it has hit the upper limit of its current management structure. It might come in the form of a certain number of sales or more likely, once the number of employees rises to a critical level. In any scenario, this is when businesses take their management and begin creating executive level leadership within the company. You will see Presidents, Vice Presidents, Directors, CEOs, CFOs, CIO, and CTOs.
Among these new executives will be some of the finest minds and personalities you can find within the industry. Their complementary nature leads to departments increasing functionality and productivity due to the strong management of these executives. That being said, a bad executive can cause just as many issues as a good one can prevent.
CTO, or the chief technology officer, has been a staple of corporate structure since the mid-twentieth century. After modern regulations post-industrial revolution became ubiquitous throughout American manufacturing, companies began to specialize their management into positions such as CTO.
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According to Investopedia, a chief technology officer is the executive in charge of an organization’s technological needs as well as its research and development (R&D). The chief technology officer deals with short term and long term big picture issues by analyzing and assessing the current market and its future tendencies in order to best serve the company. As the highest level technology employee, the CTO should have an in-depth understanding of new and innovative technologies not only within the company’s market, but also in other relevant industries.
Chief Technology Officers must also have solid management skills for use when issues arise between fellow technology employees. They should be able to understand what motivates their employees within their technological job, but also what incentivizes them to perform better on a daily basis. Of course, every corporation and company has its own version of a chief technology officer, but they will all overlap.
The CTO may be in charge of departments such as IT, R&D, Laboratories, or other heavy technology-based parts of the company. While having a strong knowledge of the technological world, the chief technology officer must possess the proper qualities to manage employees in these departments as well as have a general understanding of how their position relates to the larger picture for the rest of the company.
Having a knowledgeable and skillful chief technology officer will take your company to the next level and allow your employees to have confidence in a leadership system that understands their jobs and how they benefit not only the company, but each other and themselves.
As with most careers, there are a variety of specialties or concentrations that allow for a deeper look into a certain aspect of the business that needs more guidance than another. When it comes to CTOs, there are also ways to narrow focus in order to bolster an important department of your business.
The manager focuses on the more technical side of the company. Specifically, they handle the backbone and infrastructure in place. This may result in the CTO being an IT genius, a security savant, or a maintenance specialist. In these roles, the chief technology officer is directly working with the company’s internal network structure to make sure it is up to date and impenetrable.
The visionary tends to take a look at the current technology landscape and try to predict what moves will benefit the company most. This is not necessarily related to product development, but can be. They find new ways the company can use technology to its advantage. Since nearly everything on this planet has to constantly be changing and adapting to a new environment, a visionary can be a great help to get you where you need to be in order to succeed in a future market.
The Liaison is a consumer-centric position where the chief technology officer focuses on the relationship between the company and its customers. This could mean taking a hands-on approach to the public relations team or the customer service team. Most likely the Liaison’s main focus will be implementing new technology to the market while learning everything the CTO needs to know about the target consumer and market at-large.
The strategist will create the company’s main technological strategy by building on the current business model and expanding it to include the latest and greatest technologies that the chief technology officer can find. This is probably the widest lens with which a CTO will view the company and industry, but can still be extremely effective.
Once a company narrows its focus and begins to create specialized positions to increase its output and grow its management within the business, these new open positions become skill-based opportunities. A general knowledge will not qualify you for these. You must have a curated set of skills that lend to being a chief technology officer.
A CTO must be properly educated within the current technological landscape that the world is living in. They must be able to understand these current models and understand not only how, but why they work. A CTO must have the ability to disseminate information clearly and consistently throughout the company so it can reach every level of employee.
Every chief technology officer needs to have a solid understanding of every employee at every level, as well as the personalities of the CFO, CIO, and CEO. The CTO must be able to curate a relationship with both the higher ups in management and the everyday officer worker or labor based worker. These relationships are paramount in becoming a respectable CTO.
This doesn’t simply mean that you need to have the ability to show employees what they should be doing and how it relates to the larger picture. A strong manager also knows who to hire and when to hire them. The chief technology officer shouldn’t hesitate to hire the best candidate possible when they are needed. However, the CTO should also be able to know when a new hire isn’t needed, but rather a change in the current responsibilities of certain employees or departments.
Any executive level management member should have built great foresight within their career, but it is even more important to have foresight as a chief technology officer. The reason for this is that technology is an ever changing almost fluid industry that can flip upside down by the day, even sometimes the hour. The CTO must have the foresight to change companies for the future, but also know when it is better to wait the industry out and see what ends up not working.
Some would argue that this is the single most important skill you can possess as a chief technology officer. There will be many times throughout the life of a business that it needs protecting and it will usually be the CTO that must speak up to do so. If you notice that the security of the company’s infrastructure or network might be at risk, you must speak up. It is better to be overprotective of your business than to allow a disaster to occur because the CTO didn’t have the courage to stand up.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics a Computer and Information Systems Manager’s median pay is approximately $151,150 per year. The site also goes on to say that the job outlook for a CTO is expected to grow by 11 percent by 2030.
Payscale reports that the average base salary for a Chief Technology Officer is $163,576.
The position of CTO is without a doubt a lucrative one that most likely comes with benefits and stock options, but CTOs will end up working tons of hours tweaking and perfecting strategies for the future of their company.
Of course, every company will have a different set of standards and most likely a different view on compensation so these numbers will definitely change from company to company. It is safe to say however, that the market will always need CTOs to come in and manage departments due to the constantly evolving aspect of technology in the workplace.
Becoming a CTO is no easy task. It will take a dedicated person to have the drive and desire to work as a chief technology officer. This means not only dedication to your company if you get hired, but dedication to all of your studies before you get to the workplace.
For starters, every potential candidate wishing to become a CTO will need strong grades. These will naturally get you into college so that the next steps can be taken. Even though it does matter to certain people what school you attended in college, at the end of the day, if you show that you have the qualifications and are the best person for the job, where you went to school won’t matter as much. That being said, if you want to get into a renowned college or university, do it. Tulane University even has an entire webpage dedicated to becoming a CTO.
Once you have your bachelor’s degree in a technology-related field, you will want to go for a master’s degree. Some people shoot for an MBA (Master of Business Administration), but not everyone. Perhaps you want to continue to focus on technology or maybe even a mixture of both in graduate school. Regardless, these steps are pretty much set in stone to put you on the correct path.
In addition to having the previously mentioned skills that a chief technology officer needs, any candidate will want to bolster their resume by completing any relevant certifications as they pertain to technology or business management. These can only help.
Experience is probably the most important aspect of becoming a CTO. The experience someone needs to become a CTO is well over a decade and could end up being a couple decades worth of it by the time it is all said and done.
Hopefully after you have spent a large portion of your climb towards becoming a CTO, you will have the opportunity to land a job with a corporation or a large company that needs legitimate help with the handling of their technological sector. Perform well in the interview and you will be well on your way to becoming a proper chief technology officer.
Chief Technology Officer is not only a lucrative career, but a well-respected one that will allow you to gain unmatched experience and insight into the inner workings of companies and industries. This will give you many opportunities to expand your work as a CTO into consulting, or maybe even start a business and become an entrepreneur yourself.
The combination of seeing a company from the perspective of an executive manager but also having the ability to know how it looks to employees will be invaluable when trying to solve internal issues, create new departments, or even create future strategies to move on.
CTOs have a unique opportunity to gain knowledge that many others will never have a chance to gain. This knowledge can give strength to your weaknesses and provide you with enough experience that nearly every problem that arises you will have seen before. Some people would pay for the opportunity to deposit such a wealth of information into their brain, but you get paid to do it.
Creating and sustaining opportunities for yourself and the company you work for is vital in maintaining a grip on the industry within which you work. Whether you want to fix internal structural problems, lean into the consumer side of the business, or predict future technological moves that require your expertise, the chief technology officer is full of instances to put the analytical brain to work and not only find solutions, but create company doctrine to avoid potential problems in the future.
About the Author
Jeff Nelson AKA “the Relatable CTO”; has helped countless people leverage technology to better human productivity and help them achieve their goals.
Jeff is the Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer of Blavity Inc, the leading company for Black culture and millennials, and the Founder and CEO of Cinchapi Inc., a real-time software platform for data discovery, analytics, and automation. His companies have combined to raise over $13 million in venture funding, generated millions in recurring revenue and created dozens of jobs for women and underrepresented people.
Jeff’s expertise as a technical architect, software expert, and serial entrepreneur help him drive innovation in technology, business, culture, and public policy. His technology consulting and software development expertise to create elegant solutions to complex problems using the latest technology, such as creatively harnessing the power of human and machine intelligence to make it easier for people to connect, work and thrive.
Jeff currently resides in Atlanta Ga with his family. In his spare time, he’s working on a new work -life-framework called High Intensity Interval Productivity (HIIP). He enjoys playing golf and watching baseball while occasionally dabbling in interior design. Jeff has a B.S. in Computer Science from Washington University in St. Louis.