How much does a CTO make?

Meredith Kreisa headshot
Meredith Kreisa|April 6, 2022
How much does a CTO make?
How much does a CTO make?

As the bridge between tech and business becomes more complex, so does the role of the chief technology officer. Even as companies adapted to remote work and the gradual return to the office in the wake of COVID-19, CTOs have had to lead an unprecedented adaptation of IT infrastructures. Only time will tell what challenges they’ll face next. 

A chief technology officer’s pay rate has also evolved, with a current average salary of approximately $164,349 per year in the United States. Of course, this salary may vary according to industry, location, and experience, as well as whatever bonuses, profit sharing, and commissions are available to the CTO. 

What does a CTO do?

According to Indeed, a CTO (aka chief technology officer, chief technical officer, or on occasion, chief software engineer) is an executive-level position that is in charge of coordinating various technology-related activities and overseeing the function of a company’s systems. The CTO is directly in charge of all of the technological needs of an organization. 

The CTO job description can also include:

  • Evaluating current technology and implementing new tech if necessary

  • Working to improve a company’s product offering using technology

  • Implementing quality assurance and data and software protection processes

  • Developing business and technology strategies that improve a company’s top line

  • Incorporating up-to-date technological developments and knowledge into an organization’s processes

  • Leading product development and acting as the chief software engineer and developer

  • Establishing goals for research and development

  • Acting as the director of the engineering team

A CTO’s exact job description varies from company to company based on the organization’s size and industry. 

What does the typical CTO career path look like?

There is no official path to becoming a CTO. However, most CTOs typically follow a similar career trajectory. Here’s a breakdown of some of the steps a prospective CTO should take:

Earn a degree

A bachelor’s degree is generally considered the minimum education requirement to become a chief technology officer. Typical areas of study for future chief technology officers include computer science, digital media, data science, software engineering, or other IT- or science-related fields. A bachelor’s degree can provide a solid foundation of knowledge that serves as a great starting point for any entry-level IT job.

In addition to a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree will likely be necessary to pursue a career as a chief technology officer. Most CTOs receive a master’s degree in business administration, cybersecurity, or another IT-related field. Not only can a master’s degree help further an IT employee’s technical skills, but it also offers insights into leadership and business management that C-level executives may find useful. 

Gain the right experience

The fast-evolving and complex nature of tech makes on-the-job experience just as important as academic experience. As new threats and developments arise within the tech field, a CTO needs to know how to train and manage employees to ensure that the organization is up to speed on the latest tech, protected from security threats, and following best practices. 

According to Maryville University, individuals interested in a CTO role should have experience in:

  • Network architecture

  • Big data engineering

  • Information security management

  • Security engineering

  • Web software development

Get certified

In addition to education and experience, certifications can help IT employees demonstrate their knowledge and commitment to their job while verifying their special skills. Certifications can also be a leg up into a higher role or pay grade. Here are a few common certifications a CTO might look into:

  • Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP): CISSP certifies that an employee is able to implement and manage the latest cybersecurity programs. It is most common among those who want to focus on cybersecurity.

  • Certified in the Governance of Enterprise IT (CGEIT): IT employees need a minimum of five years of relevant work experience to take the CGEIT exam. It demonstrates the ability to work according to enterprise IT governance standards.

  • Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM): Offered by the Project Management Institute, CAPM certification demonstrates an IT employee’s ability to manage IT teams. 

How long does it take to become a CTO?

Most CTO roles require anywhere from five to 10 years of experience in security engineering, software engineering, web development, or another IT-related field to be eligible to enter a management position. Once in a management or director role, employees may spend an additional five to seven years gaining leadership experience. Altogether, you’re looking at an average of 15 years of IT and leadership experience to become a CTO.

Average salary of a CTO

Payscale reports the median salary of a chief technology officer is around $164,349 per year in the United States. Here’s a look at how the chief technology officer salary range breaks down by experience:

  • Entry-level CTO salary: $102,000-$119,000 per year

  • Mid-level CTO salary: $119,000-$164,000 per year

  • Senor CTO salary: $164,000-$185,000 per year

These numbers only reflect a CTO’s average base salary. CTOs may also benefit from profit sharing, commissions, bonuses, and more.

What’s the difference between a CTO and a CIO?

CTO and CIO (chief information officer) may seem like similar positions. After all, what’s the difference between “technology” and “information”?

Both positions operate in the same vein of an organization; however, their roles are very different. While the chief technology officer acts as the director of technology as it relates to external business growth, the CIO directs the IT infrastructure related to internal business operations. CIOs are concerned with the bottom line (how to increase profitability), and CTOs are concerned with the top line (total revenue). Some companies have either a CTO or CIO, while others have both positions.

Whatever you do, just don’t ask them who reports to whom. 

How do you become a CTO?

In addition to earning a degree (or two), gaining experience in IT development or engineering, and getting certified, prospective chief technology officers should also focus on honing their IT and leadership skills. According to Indeed, a good CTO should have the following skills:

  • Leadership: A CTO can act as the director of IT, which involves its fair share of motivating employees, ensuring productivity, and more.

  • Project management: This goes hand in hand with leadership skills. A CTO should be able to plan, manage, and follow up on projects to ensure their success.

  • Strategic thinking and problem solving: A good CTO anticipates trends and potential problems before they happen. They’re also effective problem-solvers that can unite teams under a common goal. 

  • Communication: A CTO should be able to communicate with both IT and non-IT employees about highly technical subjects.

  • Adaptability: A CTO should skillfully work within every business area, applying technology best practices to each to serve the company’s needs.

Think you’ve got what it takes to make it to the C-suite? Stay tuned to PDQ for the latest in all things IT, as well as career opportunities and tips and tricks to succeed in your tech career.

Meredith Kreisa headshot
Meredith Kreisa

Part writer, part sysadmin fangirl, Meredith gets her kicks diving into the depths of IT lore. 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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