How Can I Become a CTO?

Question: Can you provide any details on what career path I would need to move into a CTO position — for example, roles on that route, training or certification needed, etc.?

How do you get to be a CTO at an IT firm?I graduated with a degree in industrial engineering in 1996, started work in IT straight after and completed a part-time MSc in health informatics from 1998 to 2000. I currently work as a project lead in a health insurance firm, but primarily have the duties of a senior developer (including design, code, and interaction with businesspeople).

I have a choice of going into a technical route, an enterprise architecture group or a project management route. In your experience, which route would be more likely to allow me progress in the CTO arena?

Answer: Unfortunately, there is no one path that leads to the CTO position — it varies from company to company, country to country. However, there are always common prerequisites for this post. Some examples are as follows:

1. At least 10 years IT management experience: The CTO is a C-level position, just like the CEO and CIO, and has a high level of managerial responsibility. This includes successful management skills such as project management, people management, IT security management and financial management.

2. A strong educational background, whether it’s academic, vocational or professional: Not only do candidates need strong practical skills, but they also need to demonstrate theory or show their practical application has been assessed against a certain standard. This could be in the form of a master’s degree, including an MBA; the National Vocational Qualification (NVQ 5), in the U.K. or EU; the MCGI from City & Guilds; or others.

3. Excellent soft skills: Never forget about the soft skills like leadership, negotiation, the ability to listen, the ability to make decisions and the ability to interact with people. It’s surprising how many people concentrate on the technical side, but forget about this range of skills.

4. Business acumen: A CTO must have conceptual and strategic skills and the ability to take business requirements and offer or create solutions based on them. After all, it’s the business that dictates IT needs, not the other way around.

5. Strong technical skills: CTO does stand for chief technical officer, so a very strong technical skill base is needed, including but not limited to enterprise architecture.

There are other credentials that will help along the way on the route to becoming a CTO — for instance, chartered status. The three most common ones relating to IT and IT management are:
•    CITP: The Chartered IT Professional awarded by the British Computer Society (BCS)
•    CEng: The Chartered Engineer award by the Engineering Council UK (ECUK)
•    CMgr: The Chartered Manager award by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI)

It’s almost impossible to outline a definite route that will guarantee an individual a CTO position. The CTO is constantly changing — what a company may be looking for in a CTO today may be different tomorrow. I’d recommend that individuals concentrate on developing the aforementioned skills and experience, keep their eyes open for opportunities and continually develop and train on whatever they can.

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Ken Wagner

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ken Wagner is an IT network manager and part-time IT lecturer in the United Kingdom. He has lived in the United States, Asia and Europe. He can be reached at editor (at) certmag (dot) com.

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