Updated on 26 Oct 2021

How to Become a CTO?

Ned Krastev
Published on 24 Nov 2020 5 min read

Not sure what is required for a CTO position?

This state of confusion is common in the tech industry due to a lack of detailed and up-to-date information.

So, to address this, we reverse-engineered the job descriptions provided by employers for the CTO position to find out the key patterns and skills you need for the role today.

For this analysis, we have extracted close to 150 job ads from various job boards in the U.S.

We've already done similar analyses on other popular career paths (SQL developer, data analyst intern, machine learning engineer, business analyst, marketing analyst).

However, this one is a little unusual, as CTO is more of an Executive role. And, although it is a known fact that a CTO would be more hands-on in the technical operations of an organization, it is challenging to present the ideal technologies for a CTO resume because every company has its own specific Chief Technology Officer requirements.

Nevertheless, there are quite a few non-technical skills that are listed as crucial by almost all companies. And, hopefully, by the end of this article, you will have a clear idea of what you need to get started on your CTO career path.

Of course, you can also check out the video on the topic below or download our free infographic.

If you prefer reading and there's a specific question that interests you, use the table of contents to jump directly to it or just scroll down to check out the entire piece.

We did our best to find the answers to the 10 most important questions every aspiring CTO needs to know.

  1. What Is a CTO?
  2. What Does a CTO Do?
  3. How Much Does a CTO Make?
  4. Which Are the Companies Offering the Highest Number of CTO Jobs?
  5. What Industries are Hiring CTOs Right Now?
  6. Which Are the Locations with a Higher Concentration of CTO Job Offers?
  7. What Is the Required CTO Education?
  8. What Is the Most Desired CTO Specialization?
  9. How Much Experience Do You Need to Become a CTO?
  10. What CTO Skills are Employers Looking for?

But before we get to the actual analysis, let's quickly define the role itself.

1. What Is a CTO?

What does CTO stand for? If we search through Wikipedia for the CTO meaning, we will see that a CTO is the highest technology executive position within a company that leads the technology or engineering department. To define the role in our own terms, CTO stands for Chief Technology Officer.

2. What Does a CTO Do?

Surely, one thing that's more important than the Chief Technology Officer definition is to know what the Chief Technology Officer roles and responsibilities are. In a nutshell, a CTO usually handles all the technical related aspects of the organization and guides other employees in developing the right products or technology that serves the organization needs.

3. What Is the CTO Salary?

How much does a CTO make? According to Indeed.com, "the average salary for CTO ranges from approximately \$124,775 per year for Director of Information Technology to \$210,097 per year for Vice President of Engineering."

And that lucrative income shouldn't come as a surprise. For businesses, having a CTO who is up to speed with the latest technological advancements is increasingly valuable.

That said, now that we've briefly outlined the CTO profile, it's time to take a look at our analysis and see how you can become one.

4. What Are the Companies Offering the Highest Number of CTO Jobs?

CTO offers by company: companies offering the highest number of CTO jobs

Our data shows that there are most openings for Chief Technology Officer jobs in Microsoft at the moment, followed by the Federal Reserve Bank.

Overall, there are very few openings company-wise. But this makes perfect sense since multiple openings for a CTO role in a single company is very rare.

CTO offers by company type: large companies and an increasing number of startups are currently looking for a CTO

In terms of company types, almost 33% of the job offers are from large-scale companies with more than 10,000+ employees. What makes an impression, however, is that there are some considerable offers from small-scale organizations as well, which indicates that an increasing number of startups are currently looking for CTO’s.

5. Which Industries Are Hiring CTOs Right Now?

CTO offers by industry: industries with highest demand for CTOs

It is easy to spot that the largest number of Chief Technology Officer vacancies belong to the Financial Services and Information Technology industries.

But these are far from the only options, as there are considerable openings under the Healthcare and Education industries, too.

6. Which Are the Locations with a Higher Concentration of CTO Job Offers?

State-wise, we can easily draw the following conclusions from the data at hand:

  1. The majority of openings for CTO positions are in California and New York.
  2. There is a significant number of openings from Washington and Virginia states. So, it’s safe to say you now know which flight to book if you’re aiming for the CTO title.

CTO offers by state: states with the highest number of CTO job offers

To narrow things down, let’s take a look at the cities with the most CTO offers at the moment. Currently, the best opportunities are undisputedly in New York City. However, don’t rule out San Francisco and Redmond, as data suggests they offer a reasonable number of openings, too.

CTO offers by city: U.S. cities with the highest demand for CTOs

So, these are the best industries, companies, and locations to consider if you have set your sight on the CTO role. Now, let's take a good look at the education, experience, and skills required by employers.

7. What Is the Required CTO Education?

CTO education: top degrees mentioned in CTO job descriptions

What degree do you need to fulfill the CTO position?

According to the data, almost 50% of job offers mentioned Bachelor as the required degree for the CTO position. However, the Master's degree is mentioned in almost the same number of offers as the Bachelor's, so that might be a trend worth following up in the future.

On the other hand, very few companies are expecting Ph.D. candidates for the CTO position. That's probably because business acumen and experience are considered more important for that dynamic role.

8. What Is the Most Desired CTO Specialization?

CTO fields of studies: Most desired specialization in CTO job offers

Well, the majority of the companies have listed Computer Science as the preferred CTO educational background in their Chief Technology Officer job description. Other more prominent fields of concentration include Mathematics, EE, and Statistics.

9. How Much Experience Do You Need to Become a CTO?

CTO years of experience mentioned in job offers

Since the Chief Technology Officer role is more of an Executive one, companies are looking for experienced candidates that can carry out the CTO responsibilities. On average, the overall industry experience expected for a CTO position is 10+ years. Besides, candidates with relevant experience in senior roles of 7+ years are preferred by the companies.

10. What CTO Skills Are Employers Looking for?

CTO skills required in job offers

So, you're already familiar with the Chief Technology Officer responsibilities and preferred educational background. And that means we've arrived at the most exciting part - exploring the practical aspect of the CTO role – skills.

Our research outlined 6 distinct categories: programming languages, front end technologies, other technologies/tools, domain knowledge, soft skills, and communication skills.

Programming Languages

CTO skills: Programming languages required for the CTO role

As we pointed out earlier, it is been a little difficult to find the default technical skills for a CTO role. Instead, we identified the current trends, that is, the most mentioned skills by companies. In that case, these are Net(C#), Java, SQL, and Javascript.

Front-end Technologies

CTO skills: front-end technologies mentioned in CTO job offers

Continuing with front-end technologies, 2 trends jump off the page:

  1. We observed that front end technologies are mentioned in a good number of openings. This adds up, as these days, most of the small-scale companies are interested in building web-based products.
  2. Angular, ReactJS, and NodeJs are mentioned in quite a few openings.

Other Technologies and Tools

CTO skills: Other technologies and tools mentioned in CTO job offers

When it comes to other technologies and tools, companies need candidates that are well-aware of the currently popular technologies like Machine Learning, Saas, and Devops. AWS and Azure are also mentioned in a few offers as cloud technologies are trending in the industry these days.

Domain Knowledge

CTO skills: domain expertise required for the CTO job

Naturally, companies are expecting the candidates to know about certain domains as this helps them build the right products to satisfy customer needs. So, in tune with the latest developments and trends in business and economics, Healthcare and Finance are present in quite a few job offers.

Soft Skills

CTO non-technical skills: soft skills required for the CTO role

That said, the technical aspect of the CTO job is only half of what it takes to move up the ladder and become one.

In fact, soft skills are probably the most important skills for a CTO position.

Most of the companies are looking to recruit candidates with strong leadership qualities in managing the employees.

What’s more, many companies are expecting the candidates for a CTO role to be experts in the design and architecture of the products.

Strategic thinking and an innovative mindset are some of the most prized qualities and are in huge demand for the role, as well.

Communication Skills

Finally, as we approach the end of the list of qualities a CTO needs to possess, we shouldn’t forget that communication skills and soft skills go hand in hand.

As a CTO, you are bound to interact with various teams and other leaders in the organization. So, top communication skills are a must. Our data confirm that with more than 50% of companies requiring communication skills.

Skills and qualities that give you a high chance to get a CTO position

Now, you’ve got a good idea about the Chief Technology Officer profile, what does a Chief Technology Officer do, as well as the skills and education required to become a CTO.

To recap, this is more of a role-oriented job. So, if you have good knowledge in any domain and front-end technologies, prior experience in a senior role, and you’re capable of handling an organization with good leadership qualities, then you stand a fairly high chance to get an interview call for the CTO position.

Nevertheless, if you're also interested in the numerous amazing career opportunities in data science, check out our course Starting a Career in Data Science: Project Portfolio, Resume, and Interview Process.

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Ned Krastev

Co-founder of 365 Data Science

Ned is a Master of Finance at Bocconi University with years of advisory experience in some of the world’s top international enterprises. A visionary and co-founder of 365 Data Science, he has helped thousands of students gain competitive advantage through his courses Introduction to Excel, Advanced Microsoft Excel, Data Analysis with Excel Pivot Tables, Python for Finance, and Introduction to Tableau.

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