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What is the Role of a Chief Technology Officer (CTO)?

The technology industry accounted for 10.5% of the total U.S. GDP in 2020; there are over 585,000 technology companies in the U.S.; and tech employees earn 85% more than those in other industries(1). The list of statistics to back the tech industry as a leader in the job market is evident. Further, the chief technology officer (CTO) position is a demanding role that many companies value to establish themselves as leaders in their industries. Becoming a CTO is not always simple. This complete guide will help you learn the fundamental role of a CTO.

What is a CTO?

Depending on the organization, A CTO typically oversees the information technology (IT) and technology of a business. Whether the role oversees a private company or a public institution, the CTO must be capable of making company-wide decisions regarding technology. They must be well-informed about the latest technology, be innovative, and have the leadership skills to run all technological aspects of their organization.

Besides making critical decisions alongside other company leaders, a CTO must develop policies regarding technology so that organizations run smoothly. A well-versed CTO is knowledgeable in roadmapping & development, innovation, leadership, strategic planning, AI, machine learning, cloud, DevOps, and budgeting, amongst other skills and technologies.

Chief Technology Officer Job Description and Skills

So, what does a chief technology officer do exactly? While the role can vary depending on the size of a company, a CTO typically:

  • Oversees all aspects of technology within an organization
  • Establishes the various roles within the IT department
  • Creates policies around technology infrastructure
  • Researches and develops important technology to implement in the organization
  • Continuously educate themselves on technology topics
  • Analyzes data to facilitate operations
  • Keeps up to date with the latest technology trends
  • Ensures data privacy safety
  • Communicate technology strategies internally and externally
  • Monitor budgets

There are essential skills a CTO should have to succeed in the role. Some include:

  • Computer programming
  • Strategic planning
  • Effective communication
  • Cybersecurity
  • Business administration
  • Software development
  • IT

Why is Innovation Important in Leadership?

Since innovation and technology go hand-in-hand, it is crucial for a CTO to have a creative mindset and stay on top of the latest technology trends. That way, their organization will be equipped to facilitate operations and development. Otherwise, it will be difficult for the company to stay ahead of the competition. The companies that incorporate the best technology are oftentimes the most successful.

Remember, a CTO is not just tech-savvy. They must also be good leaders. Knowing everything about technology will not help very much if you cannot communicate effectively when talking to stakeholders. Conversely, being a great public speaker will not save you if you need to explain heavy tech knowledge to a team of IT specialists. The CTO role is a perfect combination of being tech-savvy, having 15+ years of experience in the technology field, and possessing innovative leadership skills to succeed.

What is Innovation Leadership in a CTO Role?

Organizations must think innovatively to compete in a highly skilled market. That means innovation should be led by a CTO who not only adapts to changes well, but also knows what technology is most functional in their business.

Managing innovation is certainly one of the top skills needed to be successful as a CTO. The ISO/TC 279 highlights market, cultural, and organizational benefits of innovation management including:

  • Provide guidance on how an organization can fulfill unmet customer needs
  • Increase business opportunities and open new markets
  • Develop open‐mindedness to accept new business models and methods
  • Promote the growth of an innovation culture with a global objective
  • Improve the efficiency and the performance of the organizations to produce innovation
  • Improve results of innovation process and contributes to monitor the return of investments made in innovation

Steps to How to Become a CTO

The journey to learning a department in an organization varies from professional to professional. Not everyone’s journey is the same. There are, however, similar characteristics needed to achieve success as a CTO.

1. Learn about technology

A wealth of knowledge in technology will increase your probability of one day leading the technology department in an organization. Technology has a wide range of elements, however. Depending on the industry to which your company belongs, it might be best to focus on technology that influences your industry. For example, suppose you work in the automotive industry. In that case, it is essential to be knowledgeable in technology such as AI and IoT, as those are fundamental elements in the future of automobiles.

2. Work in technology roles

Roughly 15+ years of experience in a tech role are critical to climbing the corporate ladder and becoming CTO. Generally, the more years of experience and knowledge in an industry, the higher your chances of reaching a C-suite position. Roles as software engineers, web development, or big data are some of the career positions a CTO may have held before their current role.

3. Be a great leader

Arguably, becoming a great leader is something that must come naturally. Helpful courses exist that can help you become a better leader, however. The best way to hone your leadership skills is through experience. Management and leadership roles are the best steppingstones to obtaining the CTO role in an organization.

4. Network

Today, networking is a key factor in obtaining a better position in most industries. Meeting new professionals and maintaining professional relationships with industry leaders can influence your career. As long as you have the education and experience under your belt, nurturing professional relationships can lead you to achieve the position you have always wanted.

Chief Technology Officer Certificate Program at MIT Professional Education

The Professional Certificate: Chief Technology Officer certificate program from MIT Professional Education includes a series of courses to help you make the jump from your current manager or director of technology position to a CTO. You will obtain certificates in:

  • Leadership and Innovation
  • Management of Technology: Roadmapping and Development
  • Management of Technology: Strategy and Portfolio Analysis
  • Machine Learning: From Data to Decisions
  • Cloud & DevOps: Continuous Transformation

In addition, you will participate in a team on a series of assignments that will culminate in a final presentation at the MIT campus. The 12-month program is an all-encompassing, 360° certificate program that supplies you with the necessary tools to accelerate your career.

Be the change your organization needs to become a successful CTO. Find out more about our certificate programs and other courses.

(1) Source: Zippia

Clara Piloto
Director of Global Programs, Director of Digital Plus Programs
MIT Professional Education
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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