Unsurprisingly, the answer to this question is it varies! Becoming a chief technology officer is dependent on several factors. These can include industry, company size, recruitment focus, and frequency of personnel changes. But what education and experience can best prepare you for the role? Let’s take a look.
What higher education is required?
There’s no specific higher education required to become a chief technology officer. Executive recruitment is usually highly focused on prior experience above formal education. Competition for senior executive positions can be fierce, however. Recruiting teams may require a certain level of education to reduce the size of the applicant pool.
Advanced degree qualifications may help prepare senior leaders for executive positions. A Master’s in Business Administration is common among CTOs. As well as technical skill, all C-level executive members will need to act in the best interest of the business and its future. To support effective decision-making, they need a deep understanding of business operations. They’ll also need a working knowledge of corporate strategy and finance.
Higher education will help future CTOs gain the early-career and middle-management positions that precede executive leadership. For example, software engineers usually require a technology-focused bachelor’s degree. Common bachelor’s degrees include computer engineering, electrical engineering, or computer science.
What licenses, certifications, or post-grad degrees should be followed?
As well as the MBA mentioned above, other post-graduate education may be useful. For example, a Master's-level degree in information technology, software development, or cyber security. Technical post-graduate degrees can make you more competitive for a CTO role. This is especially true if your undergraduate degree wasn’t technical.
CTOs are particularly interested in how technology products and services impact customers. Marketing-related post-graduate education or training can also be beneficial. This helps future CTOs appreciate the customer journey more completely. Project management qualifications may also be useful.
Professional certifications and industry accreditation can also help you get ahead. ITIL certifications are listed as desirable on many CTO job descriptions. This certification is internationally recognized. It is a measure of expertise in IT service management. ITIL v4 is the latest version of the certification. It has four levels, from foundation to master.
What career path is typically undertaken?
CTOs need to rely on their technical knowledge when building an effective technology strategy. Typically, this means CTOs start their career journey as technical specialists. These roles include web developers, computer scientists, or software engineers.
Specialists interested in pursuing managerial roles will likely apply for team leader roles. They can then move onward into middle management. They may continue to broaden their technical knowledge with specific certifications. Cybersecurity management is a common example.
Middle managers will also look to build their knowledge of business operations and strategy. This may include pursuing formal education, such as an MBA. They may also pursue on-the-job training, including mentoring by more senior leaders. Coaching may help support them in developing the necessary soft skills essential for success as a CTO.
After growing their technical skills, business knowledge, and industry experience, they may decide to apply for a CTO role. This may be within their current company, or they may look for an external role. Starting with a role in a medium-sized business helps new CTOs build their experience. They can then tackle roles in larger, more complex organizations.