How to Snag That CTO Job

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Chief technology officers (CTOs) need a mix of technical and strategic skills to perform effectively in the C-suite. But more than anything else, CTOs must be motivational leaders with the communication skills to rally the troops—IT employees and non-tech staff alike—around their vision.

CTOs combine technical chops with managerial savvy, all in the name of aligning the technical needs of the organization with business and financial goals. “A CTO has to define the technology and technical strategy of the company and depending on the scope, deliver on it,” Laurent Bride, CTO at Big Data integration company Talend, said in an interview. If you’re looking at software companies, he added, experience as a developer in multiple languages is a must: “Being able to design a high-level scalable, open, and adaptable architecture is also something you would expect from a CTO.”

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The aspiring CTO’s resume should show a steady progression up the IT food chain, with development, architecture and management experience as must-haves. “Leading innovation teams can be a plus in the [applicant] mix,” Bride said. A deep understanding of mobile, Big Data, and the cloud are very important these days, although probably not as much as the capability to bridge old and new technologies.

(Wonder what a CTO’s resume would look like? Check out our sample here.)

Non-technical skills are just as important as technical ones. In order to deliver on goals, a CTO needs to be a thought leader and someone unafraid of failure. “He or she needs to be pragmatic on delivery plans, while challenging the team for more,” is how Bride frames it. That requires a technical curiosity as well as an innovation focus. Changes in the way enterprise companies consume software, whether it’s cloud, mobile, or open source (as well as the consumerization of enterprise software), will affect how CTOs perform their roles for years to come.

With all that in mind, those applying for a CTO role should brush up on their communication skills, and be ready to adapt their personal style to the audience. You’ll not only deal with IT staff, but non-technical employees and customers and clients. A good CTO can make complex topics understandable to even the most non-technical people in an organization.

As with most of the roles on the executive team, CTOs are more involved in the financial direction of the company than ever before—a crucial role, since CTOs are laboring under the pressure of weak IT spending. According to Gartner, worldwide IT spending was flat in 2013, and is on pace to increase a mere 2.1 percent in 2014. Before taking a run at a CTO role, make sure you know your way around a financial statement, and be prepared to counter budgetary constraints with IT innovation.

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