The Chief Technology Officer (CTO) is a prestigious executive position. At that level, you bear the responsibility for every aspect of an organization's technological needs — which is no small feat. As a C-suite executive, you play several roles in the company, offering guidance on strategy, short-term and long-term forecasting, customer relations, and capital investments.
The CTO is a function so it varies greatly from company to company. What is likely to be true across the board, however, is that a CTO is a seasoned technologist who knows how to build and lead teams.
With that type of impact on a company's direction, many consider the CTO position the pinnacle of success. The role also provides substantial benefits:
Let's examine what the Chief Technology Officer role entails and how you can best prepare for your software engineering career path to CTO.
So, how do you earn such a coveted position?
The CTO oversees the entire technology or engineering department of an organization. A CTO focuses on projects that apply to external business growth rather than internal processes (the Chief Information Officer handles those tasks). Some businesses do not have a CIO, and those situations generally include an expanded set of responsibilities for the CTO.
As a C-suite member with a focus on technology, your tasks would cover four primary business pillars:
There was no specific point when I realized that I wanted to become a CTO. It just happened. I was growing and maturing as a technologist and as a leader and, at some point, was offered an opportunity to become a CTO of our digital practice. CTO is a title, a function. Don’t overthink it.
A CTO is often a highly educated individual. The majority of CTOs have a bachelor's and master’s degree in computer science or another related field.
In addition, you will need to pursue extended professional development and additional certifications. Most CTOs spend a significant amount of time as a senior software engineer while they build up their credentials. It is important that you maintain both your leadership skills and technical abilities at peak performance levels.
If there’s a single trait that’s an absolute must for a CTO, it’s empathy. You do need to be a skilled, experienced engineer but, because it is a leadership role, most of the solutions will be in the “people” domain or at least at the intersection of people and technology. Apart from empathy, it’s about owning your mistakes, strategic thinking, enabling others, and active listening.
The CTO position requires extensive experience. A common expectation for applicants is 15 years in the field, often in several different IT fields such as web development or big data.
To reach that pinnacle, you will need to pursue a managerial track. There is an expectation of at least five to seven years of experience in a supervisory role. The selection process for a CTO puts a clear emphasis on the cultivation and demonstration of leadership skills.
While more weight is given to the skills associated with the managerial career tracks, a CTO must also have proficiency with the technical aspects of software engineering.
The technical skills: Since every element of the company’s IT infrastructure falls within the CTO purview, considerable expertise is required. You may have to manage certain applications or technologies used within the organization at an advanced level. Knowing the fundamentals of software development and programming is crucial.
The managerial skills: A CTO also needs to lead different teams across varied departments. Superior decision-making is necessary, as well as the ability to provide guidance on big picture topics such as market trends, IT budgets, and long-term strategy. Also important are the soft skills needed for positive leadership, such as motivating employees, communicating effectively, and organizing multiple projects at once.
In any leadership role you will be working with people and communicating. A lot. At least half of my day, if not more, is communication. A lot of this communication is technical engineering work. Enabling teams. Brainstorming solutions. Architecting. Problem solving. Most of what I do is “engineering” even when I don’t work with code. Within this “engineering,” I prefer a very healthy mix of people time and in-the-zone coding time.
As you may know, a leadership position as a Chief Technology Officer is highly rewarding. Consider the following benefits as you plan your long-term career path to CTO:
After more than 20 years in software engineering, this still rings true for me: the more you know, the more you realize how much you don’t know. Learning new things and solving new problems remains fun and challenging. I don’t think it will ever get old.
The challenges and benefits sound great, so how do you set up your career track to move toward the top technology position? Use the following steps to pursue the title of Chief Technology Officer:
If you want to fast-track your promotion to the CTO role, join a small company as their most senior technologist and you will very likely be performing the work of a CTO even if you are not called a CTO.
Are you ready to start your career path to CTO? EPAM Anywhere can help you find remote job opportunities in a variety of management positions. Build your career by matching with suitable IT work. Check out our open jobs.