What is a Chief Technical Officer (CTO)? What is the Role and Responsibilities of a CTO?

Chief Technology Officer (CTO) role is one of the most after-sought careers in the IT industry. CTO is an executive level position in a company who usually reports to a CIO or CEO. Most larger corporations need two technology executives, CIO, and CTO, while smaller companies have one of these two roles. A Chief Information Officer is responsible for entire IT department of the company and CTO focuses on R&D, development, and adoption of technology. Most of the software development, technology choice and adoption, and building new products usually falls under a CTO.

For startups, a CTO usually is a cofounder of the company who builds its prototype and product.

What Is A CTO?

CTO stands for Chief Technology Officer. A CTO is a technical person who is responsible for all decision making, planning, and adoption of technology in a company. In large corporations, VP, Engineering and Director, Technology may report to a CTO.

A CTO is a highly experienced technical person who usually has more than 15 years of experience building technology solutions to improve business process, increase productivity and efficiency and reduce cost for its customers, vendors, and internal employees.

The following diagram represents the executives in a large corporation, where a CTO reports to a CIO.

What Is A Chief Technology Officer
Image: What-is-CTO

Here, the CTO has a VP of Engineering reporting to him/her. For mid to smaller companies, a CTO may direct manager project managers, software architects, and product owners.

What Does A CTO Do?

A CTO is the decision maker of technology in a company. That means, anything about technology including strategy, planning, implementation, personnel, and implementation fall under the CTO responsibilities.

A chief technology officer (CTO) is responsible for overseeing the planning and development of technology for a company’s customers, vendors, and internal employees. The goal is to improve productivity and business output and reduce the cost and time.

What Does A CTO Do?
Image: What-Does-CTO-Do

Technology Strategy and Planning

Developing, planning, and overseeing company’s technology strategy is the key role of a CTO. A CTO is experienced and visionary to decide what technologies they should adopt and when. The goal is to increase productivity and efficiency. The CTO is also responsible for planning technology budget and resources.

  • Analyze and review existing technology and systems for improvements
  • Planning current and future adoption and migration of new technologies
  • Build and oversee applications, data, and security strategy
  • Communicating technology strategies to stakeholders, customers, and employees
  • Developing and implementing data protection and quality assurance processes

Technology Resource and Budget Planning

A CTO is responsible for planning resources and budget needed to implement and execute a company’s technology strategy. For example:

  • How much money is needed for next 3 years?
  • What kind of technical resources needs to be hired?
  • Monitor IT budgets
  • Hire application, data developers, architects, project managers
  • Approving the design of new IT infrastructure, enterprise systems and software applications

Innovation and Adoption

Technology innovation often falls under the CTO role. Some companies have a Chief Innovation Officer who works direct for or with CTO and CIO.

R&D is a part of the innovation. R&D teams are involved in learning new technologies, build POCs, and try to build solutions that can help a business to be more productive and effective.

IT Infrastructure

IT Infrastructure may or may not be a part of CTO role, depending on the company. Large corporations often has a CIO who is responsible for IT infrastructure but CTO often is the part of the team.

Lead Teams

Employee growth and learning is an important part of a company’s IT department. Technology changes at a rapid pace and CTO makes sure there is a plan placed for its technical teams training, learning, and mentorship.

CTO not only keeps an eye on new technologies but also provides all necessary resources and guidance to its teams to learn and adopt new technologies.

Customer engagement

Most companies build solutions for its customers. To understand customers’ needs and business problems, a CTO often engage with customers business needs and communicate with them with possible solution.

Top Priorities for CTO

Today, digital transformation and innovation is at its fastest pace and a CTOs role in a company is to lead its organization in the innovation race. Here are some of the top emerging technologies that a CTO should prioritize or keep an eye going into year 2022 and beyond.

  1. Cloud migration and adoption
  2. Build a security strategy – Cyber, cloud, data, and systems
  3. Implementing automation (BPA and RPA)
  4. Use of AI and Machine Learning
  5. Participate on IoT and Voice-Enabled Systems workshops
  6. Blockchain and cryptocurrencies
  7. Low-code No-code tools adoption
  8. Virtual and augmented reality
  9. Develop a remote work culture
  10. Workforce diversification

How To Become A CTO?

So, you want to become a CTO? Here is a list of requirements to become a CTO.

How To Become A CTO?
Image: How-To-Become-CTO

Technical Experience

Technical experience is the most important requirement to become a CTO. A CTO has 15 years or more experience in technology field. This rule may not apply for a startup. A startup founder CTO may just be a recent college graduate and may not have years of experience. In startup world, the CTO is responsible for build a product. But to become a CTO of a large or mid-sized company, you must have years of experience.

While some CTOs may not have a degree, but most CTOs are required to have a bachelors or master’s degree.

Leadership Experience

Before a technical person becomes a CTO, he or she usually had held several senior technology roles such as a director or a VP.

You should have experience leading your teams to successful project development and delivery.

On the Edge

Hands on experience with latest tools and technologies is not a must have but a CTO must know detailed of a new technology before making a decision to adopt it. For example, if a CTO plans to migrate its on-premises IT infrastructure to AWS cloud, the CTO must have good understanding of AWS cloud. Not only he or she should work on the migration plan but should also have a good understanding of costs, efficiency, time, and resources the migration will take.

Strategic planning

Strategy planning is one of the biggest job of a CTO that includes creating new products, adopting new technologies, their costs and resources, and putting this all together with a team and even hiring a team.

A visionary and problem solver

A CTO can’t lead a technology division unless he or she can think and have a broad vision of either adopting new technologies or creating own solutions. Today, innovation and first to adopt and introduce could make a difference in business growth.

As any technologist, a CTO should be able to come up with solutions that are not only efficient but also be able to met time and cost criteria.

Great communication skills

A CTO is the focal point of the leadership and the technical people. A CTO creates a strategy and planning to execute with a vision and provides business leadership an efficient solution and get the approval of budget to hire resources.

On the other side, a CTO should be able hire a team of people can build and execute his or her vision and strategy.

In all this, communication is the key. A CTO should be able to communicate with senior leadership, technical teams, customers, vendors, and other departmental employees and convenience them why they all should believe in his or her vision and help execute it.

Leadership

Leadership is required to become a CTO. A leader who can lead a team of people and make them believe in his or her vision. A CTO should be a people person when needed and also be a ruthless executioner when it comes to executing his or her plans.

Certifications

As such there is no one certification for CTO. But having certificates on project management, architect, leadership, security, and other latest and relevant technology helps.

What Is Difference Between A CIO And CTO?

Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Chief Technology Officer (CTO) are two important executive roles in an organization.

A CIO is the most senior directly reports to a CEO. A CTO can report to a CIO or CEO or both, depending on the company. While both of them have different roles, they most often work together to achieve the same goal, support and drive business growth.

A CIO manages the IT department and its operations such as Infrastructure, database servers, security, DevOps, and internal IT implementations. Some examples of a CIO role include the following:

  • Building internal infrastructure such as servers (app, database, web), employee computers, and vendor management
  • Build company internal policies and best practices
  • Networking – how servers and machines are connected
  • Data bandwidth – How much data bandwidth is required
  • Security – How servers and machines are secure
  • User access and privileges
  • Vendor management
  • Mail servers
  • Software and server licenses
  • DevOps

A CTO is responsible for R&D, building new applications, launching new products, and working with IT to get the products ready for testing and deployments. We have seen most of the roles of a CTO.

  • Products strategy and roadmap
  • R&D and innovation
  • Deciding a new technology to build a new application
  • Hire a team of architects and developers
  • Build and test application
  • Work with end customers

How Much Does A CTO Make?

Salary of a Chief Technology Officer varies from company to company, location, and other additional roles in the company. Like any other C-level executive in a large company, most CTOs get performance bonuses and hefty stock options as their total package. The average salary of a CTO in the US is $160k but don’t let this number fool you. The year-end compensation of a CTO can be in millions.

Let’s take an example of Facebook CTO, Michael Schroepfer (CTO). From year 2011 to 2019, his compensation was 24.8 million, 20.73 million, 12.56 million, 12.55 million, 11.9 million, 16.46 million, 22.43 million, 19.76 million, and 21.81 million respectively.

If you look at his last 2019 compensation, i.e., $21.81 million, $785,385 was received as a salary, $1,295,885 was received as a bonus, $19,678,923 was awarded as stock and $52,784 came from other types of compensation.

Summary

Chief Technology Officer (CTO) leads the team of engineering and products in a tech company. A startup CTO is the person who builds its first product. In this article, we learned what a CTO is, what a CTO does, and how to become a CTO.