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CTO vs. CIO – Job Description & Responsibilities, Plus Examples

Some executive-level roles are difficult to define from an outsider’s perspective. Two of the most challenging c-suite positions to distinguish are that of CTO and CIO since they are only one letter different and both deal with the IT side of an organization. 

As a growing company or aspiring IT executive, you need to know:

  • What is the difference between a CTO and a CIO? 
  • What responsibilities do these positions entail? 
  • What does it take to be a CTO or CIO? 

Rootstrap is here to outline CTO and CIO’s roles, explain the credentials needed to fill them, and give real-life examples of a job description for each position.

What is a CTO?

CTO stands for Chief Technology Officer. The CTO of a company looks externally to oversee how an organization’s IT department fits the consumer’s needs. 

“Typically, candidates need seven or more years of engineering and IT-related experience. Other ‘must haves’ include leadership abilities, an organized approach, project management skills, communication skills, and the capacity to confidently make responsible business decisions,” says Cyber Talk

A capable CTO will continually review external products, monitor consumer feedback, and compare the products with market trends. They will work with the engineers and devs to innovate and improve upon products, whether through incorporating more recent technologies or creating something new altogether. 

CTO Education and Experience Requirements

As with any c-level position, becoming the Chief Technology Officer of a company demands substantial higher education and a resume flush with relevant experience. 

“Most CTO positions require at least a bachelor’s degree, with extensive IT management experience. Competition for positions at top employers is strong, and preference is often given to candidates with a master’s degree,” says Florida Tech. “IT professionals who seek to advance their careers to a chief technology officer position can improve their prospects by earning an MBA with a specialization in Information Technology Management.” 

Taking note of industry standards for CTO qualifications is key for up-and-coming IT executives and organizations looking to fill an open CTO role. 

CTO Job Description

It’s helpful to search for real open CTO jobs to furnish an idea of what it takes to be a CTO. Reading the job description can help familiarize you with the knowledge, skillset, experience, and education required to be considered for a CTO position.

For example, take a look at the overview of this open CTO position recently posted on the Global CTO Forum

Chief Technology Officer
at
The Rockefeller Foundation in New York

The Rockefeller Foundation seeks a dynamic and entrepreneurial Chief Technology Officer to join a foundation that has built a reputation as a trailblazer that convenes unlikely partnerships and sparks innovations.

Reporting to the COO, the CTO leads the Foundation’s global technology and cybersecurity strategy and plays a critical leadership role in developing, planning, and implementing the IT and data management strategy. The CTO partners with the Foundation’s senior leadership team and internal and external stakeholders to develop and implement a strategy that meets the Foundation’s vision and goals. The CTO will lead a technology strategy that advances pandemic planning and global power sector transformation. The CTO will manage a team that focuses on maintaining well-designed information architectures, systems, and cybersecurity.

Based in New York and reporting to the COO, the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) will be the head of all technology and play a critical leadership role in developing, planning, and implementing the IT strategy for The Rockefeller Foundation. As a key member of the senior leadership team, they will be a partner and advisor to the COO, the CEO, and the broader organization. Some travel may be expected, when it is safe to travel.

The CTO will be the head of technology for the organization and will manage end-to-end technology landscape that includes:

  • Infrastructure including networks, storage, cloud environment, etc.
  • All core business applications and support function applications
  • Data warehouse and knowledge management
  • External vendor relationships that provide technical support to the Foundation

See the full job description to find out what duties, education, experience, and other qualifications are required for this position.

Browsing open CTO positions for enterprise-level organizations may help your organization define the role of CTO and search for qualifying candidates. 

What is a CIO?

The CIO is the Chief Information Officer. As the head of technology, the CIO looks internally to streamline IT functions within an organization. 

Chief information officers must have a pulse on how the IT department is operating. By examining existing workflows and market trends, the CIO will identify areas for improvement and outline how to boost efficiency. For example, they will find the best software and hardware solutions along with development methodologies to refine processes. 

“Companies will seek ‘hybrid’ CIOs who have not only business savvy but also experience with analytics, organizational design, and infrastructure— and who knows how to wire together a holistic system that can support global growth,” predicts the Harvard Business Review on companies looking to fill future CIO positions. “In many cases, a commercial background will be a plus. Sales and marketing knowledge will be considered an advantage when it comes to e-commerce initiatives, as will stints in supply-chain management and logistics.”

CIOs aim to keep their organization on the cutting edge of the industry by continually fine-tuning the IT department’s function, thus boosting productivity and profitability. 

CIO Education and Experience Requirements

To become a Chief Information Officer, a candidate will need strong leadership qualities backed with considerable credentials. 

“Chief information officer positions typically require at least a bachelor’s degree and extensive experience. Many employers show preference to candidates with advanced information technology training and education, including master’s degrees,” explains Florida Tech. “A Master of Science in Information Technology degree program may provide the high degree of business knowledge required to secure a career as a CIO.” 

If you want to steer towards the CIO career path, knowledge of these industry-standard requirements can help you prepare for this c-suite position. 

CIO Job Description

As with the role of CTO, it’s helpful to take a look at a job description of a CIO to get a pulse on what the position entails. 

For example, take a look at the overview of this open CIO position recently posted on LinkedIn: 

Chief Information Officer

at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle, WA

The Chief Information Officer (CIO) provides information systems leadership to align the foundation’s priorities with the necessary information systems and technological capabilities to fully support the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s vision and missions. The CIO leads the Information Technology (IT) department in the strategy, planning, implementation, and integration of all information systems, and manages key relationships with business partners and internal stakeholders. The CIO balances the need for strategic leadership with the execution and ongoing delivery of focused IT services. This critical role reports to the Chief Operating Officer and is a key member of the Operations leadership team.

Strategy

  • Responsible for establishing a clear IT vision and technology strategy to lay the groundwork for future innovation and growth; the IT strategy will:
    • encompass long-term planning and prioritization
    • focus on reducing complexity
    • migrate the foundation to a modern, nimble architecture
  • Support the vision of a global foundation in order to drive impact and value in support of the foundation’s priorities
  • Responsible for the development and the delivery of a data strategy and related critical capabilities to drive digital transformation across the enterprise

See the full job description to find out what responsibilities, education, skills, and other qualifications are required for this position.

CTO vs. CIO Duties

The expectations for a CTO and CIO will vary by organization, so it’s difficult to anticipate each role’s exact duties. However, here is a basic outline of responsibilities generally associated with CTO and CIO positions: 

CTO Job ResponsibilitiesCIO Job Responsibilities
Gauging the success of current consumer offeringsOverseeing IT personnel and projects
Mapping out the organization’s future IT strategies Identifying, purchasing, and implementing new technologies
Bridging the IT department with the customer baseBoosting efficiency within the IT department
Working with engineers and developers to improve products Facilitating company expansion through technology
Gathering data and researching trendsFine-tuning workflows 

Of course, the above lists are merely a surface-level glimpse at the day-to-day demands of each position. 

Factors Affecting CTO and CIO Roles

The roles of CTO and CIO are dynamic. Professionals filling these roles may have the same job title while carrying out very different day-to-day tasks. Such variation in these weighty roles is due to several factors, two of which are the size of the organization and changes in digital trends.

Company Size

In startups and even some mid-level companies, some team members juggle multiple responsibilities. In these cases, one or multiple teammates may be playing the preliminary role of CTO or CIO without the official title. 

As a business grows toward enterprise-level, top management will need to work with HR to define and assign these roles within the company.

Changes in Business

Ever-changing digital trends continue to transform the way companies do business. As the corporate landscape shifts, the chief roles needed in organizations shift with it. For example, the job description for CIOs has transformed in recent decades. 

“Unlike any other executive position, the requirements for the CIO are almost unrecognizable when compared to 1999,” says long-time CIO Christopher Barron in an article for CIO.com. “In hiring for the CIO role companies face a tremendous challenge to even understand what qualifications need focus. Criteria used just five years ago for the recruitment and selection of a CIO cannot be recycled.”

As information technologies continually develop in the coming years, companies need to be in-tune with the industry’s twists and turn to adapt CIO and CTO roles accordingly. 

Global IT Leaders

Rootstrap offers outcome-driven development solutions for startups and Fortune 500 companies alike.

Named one of the top software developers in California by Clutch in 2020, we design, develop, and deliver world-class digital products. 


If you need help filling the IT roles in your organization, get in touch with Rootstrap. We’ll be happy to chat about how to scale up your business.

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