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CTO job description: What does a CTO do?

More than a glorified IT manager, a CTO can have real clout in an organisation

With businesses taking on more new technologies, the role of chief technology officer (CTO) has become almost as important as CEO. Some CTOs even enjoy a sort of celebrity level of fame, like AWS executive Werner Vogels. However, many people are still unsure of what a CTO does in their everyday activities.

The role is about leading a company's IT departments and all its technical operations. As such, to be a CTO, you need a relatively diverse set of skills, as well as a tech-focused mindset. Speaking to the IT Pro Panel, Moonpig CTO Peter Donlon said: "Standing still will never be good enough in IT and that works for me. I always want to learn more."

Part of the job requirement is to predict what types of tech the business might need for the future, both hardware and software. This is also in addition to overseeing the current IT setup and whether it is sufficient enough to help the organisation reach its targets.

To help reach those targets, the CTO will also have to build and maintain an IT team, which will include hiring new members and or training the existing team. This requires extensive knowledge and experience to keep on top of the industry and the relevant training courses

Digital transformation was on the lips of every organisation long before the pandemic, but it's now one of the most important strategies for future-proofing the business. So it is understandable that CTOs find the work more critical than ever, with higher reach and a greater demand placed on them for success. 

What does a CTO do?

The CTO needs to possess the right skills to convey complex technical goals to non-technical people, and drive their enthusiasm about the opportunities it can offer. In this role, a CTO won’t always be the head of engineering, either, since this will be the vice president of engineering. They don’t have to be the best engineer or any kind of engineer really.

CTO’s, however, must be in control and organise the technology a business employs by working side-by-side with other high level executive officers. In doing so, they should be able to make the most of any technology that can contribute to a company’s bottom line, and boost a business’s potential. A CTO is both an executive and a technologist, in that order, and will examine both the long-term and short-term necessities of a business while ensuring they direct capital to intelligent investments that ensure a company can meet all of its goals.

This executive will improve a business’s products and services that focus on external customers by making the most of technology and developing a number of procedures and policies. The CTO will ensure they have clear communications with all customers, internally and externally, to try and comprehend any issues they are facing when it comes to their technology, as well as ensuring they completely understand the technology a business employs. They need to also find the right balance between business and technology strategies, absorbing information and breaking it down into simple, important, trends that highlight where an organisation needs to go next.

CTO’s must push for change in all parts of a business, where they see it needed, and also have to motivate people, both internally and externally, to do this. They should also be able to attract top talent, select the best potential candidates and encourage them to be the best they can be and become the new leaders in the future. CTOs can establish surroundings where developers should be able to unite to reach ambitious objectives.

It is becoming more common for CTOs to be one of the central drivers of a business’s digital transformation push, since they have plenty of knowledge of how any new technologies introduced to the organisation will impact employees. They also understand how this technology can help fulfil organisational objectives and modernise processes, and transform workflows within an organisation to become more efficient.

What skills does a CTO need?

Some of the key skills needed by a chief technology officer are:

  • Communication: a large part of a CTO's role involves helping less technical people understand how technology will help them achieve business goals, often at many different levels in the business. They also have to be able to communicate effectively the other way, and clearly explain business goals to more technical people.
  • Leadership: CTOs have to have outstanding leadership skills to be able to enact their strategy and convince both C-suite and management to invest in various technologies. They also have to be able to inspire the various teams they manage to work towards the company's big vision.
  • Business development: being able to work to achieve high-level business goals is an important skill for anyone in the C-suite. A good CTO will keep on top of industry trends and emerging technologies in order to help the business stay competitive.
  • Financial: CTO’s need to have strong financial abilities in order to help their organisation effectively budget for technology needs. When it comes to day-to-day activities, they’ll need to be able to be firmly in control of complicated projects and finances, as well as software licensing or resource allocation.
  • Technical: It’s critical that CTOs are able to have a solid comprehension of the different technologies the organisation has implemented. Many CTOs will already have learnt these skills, especially if they started their careers as coders or engineers.

CTOs and CEOs need to be able to anticipate any company decisions which could potentially affect the organisation’s technical direction, while at the same time working side-by-side to come up with the best overall strategy for the company. CTOs can be expected to advise CEOs on anything related to technology, and then think of ideas and push for why they will help the business be successful.

Moreover, CTOs need to ensure the general technology strategy of the whole organisation is aligned with other strategies at play, including those of the VP of engineering or product heads. The CTO needs to make sure their feedback or opinions are heard across the whole company and generally support them where possible.

Additionally, marketing teams will also have to work with the CTO in order to come up with a plan around how to create a community around the products the company produces.

No matter how challenging it is, it’s critical that CTOs are the voice of customers, employees, and the company in general, all mixed up into one. Considering how many voices a CTO has to be aware of and boost across the company, it could be essential to have someone working in the position at your organisation. CTOs tend to be one of the few high level roles who can step back and consider the bigger picture.

When thinking of what certifications or qualifications CTOs need, it’s very useful for them to have an advanced degree like an MBA. The job demands someone who has a wide toolkit of financial, business, and management skills.

How much are CTOs paid?

Considering how complex the job is, you might have guessed by now that taking on the role of a CTO at a successful company will see you net a very high pay. What salary does a CTO make exactly? This depends on a number of factors, including the company’s location, how big it is, and how much experience the CTO has.

CTO’s who are based in London and are more or less new to the job should expect to receive an average total compensation of approximately £89,000 per year, which includes bonuses, tops, and overtime pay, according to compensation software provider PayScale. However, if you’re a CTO with around five to nine years of experience, also known as a mid-career CTO, your earnings will be around £92,000.

It’s worth noting that you can expect a large pay increase as a CTO if you’ve worked in the position for a decade or more. CTO’s might receive an average total compensation of £111,000 if they’ve worked for anywhere between 10 and 19 years. Meanwhile, CTO’s with more than two decades of experience in the position received an average wage of around £124,000.

When it comes to a CTO's base pay, data from the company review website Glassdoor estimates the average at around £93,901 a year. This pay can range anywhere between £46,000 to £193,000 depending on experience.

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