How To Become A CIO Or CTO

How To Become A CIO Or CTO
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What does it take to become a CIO or CTO? Do you have the right C-level stuff? Here are 5 must-have traits of successful IT leaders and advice on how you can climb the ranks to a CIO or CTO position.

Most IT professionals listen to speeches delivered by CIOs and CTOs and think "I'd make a great CIO or CTO" or "I am clearly more knowledgeable and capable than that CIO or CTO." This is a fun daydream but it raises an interesting question: what does it take to be an effective CIO or CTO? Do you have the right C-level stuff? If not, do you know how to hone your skills and develop your expertise so that you, too, can one day be a CIO or CTO?

CIOs are typically responsible for leading an organization's IT staff and related assets, projects and personnel. A CIO may report directly to the CEO or they may report to another C-level executive, such as the Chief Operating Officer or the Chief Financial Officer.

CTOs typically own the overarching technology strategy for a company and how that strategy meshes with and supports that company’s business requirements and objectives. A CTO can also report directly to the CEO or another C-level executive.

Of course, there are many different types, shapes and sizes of CIOs and CTOs. Though there is no singular definition of what constitutes a great CIO or CTO, we identify some common traits and skills that are shared by the best CIOs and CTOs. Along the way, we'll point out ways to build a resume and technology repertoire that will serve you well as you climb the ranks on your way to a CIO or CTO position.

Leadership and Team-Building

There are managers and there are leaders and never the twain shall meet -- usually. Managers tell people what to do and how to do it while leaders seduce, cajole and, well, lead an IT organization to achieve the goals defined by executive management. We have worked with IT managers and IT leaders in our careers and there are advantages to each type of management style and capability.

About the Authors

Ed Tittel is a 30-year-plus IT veteran who's worked as a programmer, technical manager, instructor, network consultant and technical evangelist for companies including Burroughs, Schlumberger, Novell, IBM/Tivoli and NetQoS. He has written for numerous publications and is the author of over 140 books with a special emphasis on information security, Web markup languages and development tools, and Windows operating systems.

More by Ed Tittel


Earl Follis is a long-time IT pro who has worked as a technical trainer, technical evangelist and network admin for IBM-Tivoli, Nimsoft, Northrop Grumman, Thomas-Conrad, Dell and others. He's the co-author of numerous books, including For Dummies titles on Windows Server and NetWare, and has written for many print and web publications.

Managers are usually tightly connected to the traditional IT hierarchy and organizational processes. Many managers work their way up through the ranks of IT and have earned a managerial role through hard work, relevant experience and technical competency. IT leaders may also come up through the ranks or they may earn a leadership role through force of personality, communication skills, political acumen or industry knowledge. It's not unusual for CIOs and CTOs to be recruited from outside of a company.

The Holy Grail for IT executives is someone who is both a good manager and a motivating leader; that is, someone who can comprehend an IT project plan and budget and simultaneously able to effectively communicate big picture goals and priorities for an IT organization.

Technical and Industry Knowledge

The typical job requirements of a CIO or a CTO include technical, financial and organizational experience. Efforts over the last ten years to more closely link IT to the business side of a company adds in-depth business knowledge to the CIO and CTO job requirements mix.

Gone are the days when your CIO or CTO could ignore the business and deliver IT on IT's schedule. CIOs and CTOs who don't fully support the business goals of a company can find themselves looking for work elsewhere. With this in mind, following hi-tech industry websites and influential CIO/CTO blogs is a great first step to CIO-hood. Learn the lingo and see for yourself what working CIOs and CTOs are talking about and why.

For the technical foundation, a CIO or CTO needs to be successful, avail yourself of advanced technical training and IT project management training at every opportunity. If your company offers tuition reimbursement or a technical training budget, you should further your technical knowledge through those vehicles.

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