How much does a CIO make?

Meredith Kreisa headshot
Meredith Kreisa|Updated December 26, 2023
Illustration of computer desk and monitor with PDQ logo
Illustration of computer desk and monitor with PDQ logo

With the era of business and technology in full swing, the chief information officer (CIO) is more important than ever. The role of CIO used to be limited to overseeing IT services; however, today’s CIO is tasked with aligning IT and business goals to create strategies that spur business innovation. 

As the role of CIO has evolved, so has the salary. According to Payscale, the average CIO salary is $174,216 annually. Keep reading for a breakdown of what affects a CIO’s salary, what a CIO’s role includes, and how to become a CIO. 

What does a CIO do?

A CIO, or chief information officer, oversees resources and staff across the information technology department. On a more holistic level, the CIO is responsible for using technology to ensure that business processes run efficiently, managing critical systems, and overseeing an organization’s security protocols.

The CIO role has evolved quite a bit in recent history, from simply overseeing the resources in the IT department to becoming a source of technological innovation and revenue-generating ideas. It can include supporting more effective collaboration between departments, staying on top of tech trends, facilitating individual productivity, and managing key projects. 

A good CIO works with other executives to blend technology and business so that everyone from executives to entry-level employees is aligned on how to work effectively. 

What does the typical CIO's career path look like?

Unfortunately, there’s no straightforward set of instructions for becoming a CIO. The CIO career path is often a winding road full of growing pains, competition, and tons of continuous learning.

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While everyone’s path is different, the road to CIO includes a few basic steps:

Get a degree

The education requirements for CIOs vary from job to job. Most CIOs begin with a bachelor’s degree in an IT-related field. This can include computer science, software engineering, or information systems. 

Most organizations require an advanced degree to become a CIO, so the majority of CIOs go on to earn master’s degrees in either business administration or information technology. Many CIOs also pursue doctoral degrees in a business or tech-related field to enhance their expertise.

Gain experience

While education is an important prerequisite, job experience is paramount to landing a position as CIO. Most postings for CIO jobs require at least eight years of experience in information technology, and the majority of candidates have at least three years of experience at an executive level. CIOs generally report having anywhere from 15 to 20 years of IT experience and around three to five years of experience as an executive. Prepare for interviews with this list of potential interview questions.

Get certified

Not only do certifications provide IT employees with the necessary knowledge and skills to do their jobs, but they’re also great for demonstrating proficiency to employers. In fact, the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) reports that 90% of HR managers said that individuals with IT certifications are more likely to be promoted than those without certifications. (Certifications are sounding pretty good now, no?) Prospective CIOs can get certified in everything from security protocols to project management to cloud architecture and more. 

How long does it take to become a CIO?

The amount of time it takes to become a CIO depends on several factors, including how you approach your education, what areas of IT you work in, and the size of the company. 

According to Hays DNA of a CIO, about 26% of CIOs reported having 10 to 15 years of professional experience before becoming CIO, while 31% reported having 15 to 20 years of professional experience. Employees who invest in their continuous education, certifications, and experience will likely see a shorter road to a CIO position. 

What is a typical CIO salary?

According to Payscale, the average salary of a CIO is $174,216, with a salary range of around $102,000 to $263,000. A CIO’s salary varies widely based on several factors, including location, education, specialized skills, and experience. Entry-level CIOs can expect an average base salary of around $113,003 per year, while experienced CIOs (20+ years of experience) typically earn $187,138 per year or more. 

In addition to the CIO base salary, a CIO’s total compensation can include commissions, bonuses, and profit sharing. You might even score a free lunch or two if you’re lucky. Payscale reports that additional compensation can bump CIO pay up to approximately $123,000 to $340,000 annually. 

What is the difference between a CIO and a CTO?

It’s easy to confuse the role of a CTO (chief technology officer) and a CIO (chief information officer). Both are executive-level positions, and both involve the management of business technology. However, the positions are actually quite different.

The most apparent difference between CIOs and CTOs is that the CIO’s main focus is internal technology and improving processes within the company. The CTO, on the other hand, focuses on customer-facing technology and improving products that serve the customer.

Neither role is superior to the other. In fact, both roles can be critical to ensuring that an organization runs successfully, and they often support each other. 

How do you become a CIO?

The path to a CIO position varies person-by-person, depending on their skills, education, and experience. According to Indeed, the long and complicated road to CIO boils down to these simple steps:

  • Get a four-year degree in a tech-related field

  • Gain experience in project management

  • Identify your specialty or niche

  • Get experience in your desired field

  • Earn an MBA to further your expertise

Simple enough, right? 

As the relationship between tech and business grows and evolves, so will the role of the CIO. If you feel your interests align with the unique responsibilities and opportunities that come with the position, invest in your education, career opportunities, and skills to make yourself competitive and effective.

Meredith Kreisa headshot
Meredith Kreisa

Meredith gets her kicks diving into the depths of IT lore and checking her internet speed incessantly. When she's not spending quality time behind a computer screen, she's probably curled up under a blanket, silently contemplating the efficacy of napping.

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