If you work in information technology, what does the top of the career ladder look like?
In decades past, it was relatively uncommon for IT leaders to be part of the top tier of executive management. Even those who held the title of chief information officer (CIO) often reported to someone other than the chief executive officer (CEO).
But digital transformation has changed that. As enterprises seek new ways of doing business, CIOs have begun playing a bigger role in directing the overall strategy of the business. Several different surveys have found that more than half of CIOs now report to CEOs, and many CEOs list their CIOs as one of their most trusted advisors.
CIOs who work in the technology industry sometimes find that the IT career ladder leads all the way to the top; in tech it's not uncommon for CIOs to become CEOs. Unfortunately, in other industries it remains relatively rare, unless the CIO has also served in another C-level role, such as chief operations officer or chief financial officer.
However, while they might not be ascending to the top job, IT leaders are finding more opportunities to join the executive team. The twin trends of digital transformation and the rise of big data analytics has led many enterprises to create new C-level positions directly related to technology.
In fact, some industry analysts have begun to wonder if organizations have created too many new C-level technology roles. Some are forecasting that in the years ahead enterprises might be re-vamping their org structure to cut back on these new C-level positions.
But for now, IT leaders seem to have more opportunities to fill C-level roles than ever before. The following slides take a closer look at 10 C-level roles often filled by people with a technology background. We've also included average salaries for specific roles in the US, drawn from a few sources.
1. Chief Information Officer
The most common C-level job title for IT professionals is chief information officer (CIO). At most enterprises, the CIO leads the IT department and reports to the CEO (although some also report to other C-level executives). He or she is responsible for overseeing IT staff, setting goals, and determining budgets for the IT organization. CIOs need to have a combination of both technological understanding and business acumen. Often they have a bachelor's degree in computer science or information technology and a master's degree in business administration. According to Salary.com, the average salary for a CIO in the United States ranges from $81,934 to $148,927, which seems low compared to other C-level titles for technology professionals. Payscale.com reports that the salary ranges between $96,000 and $252,000, with a median of $165,000. It seems likely that these averages include salaries from CIOs working at small businesses with lower salaries. These small businesses are less likely to have other C-level technology roles, which could explain why some of the other titles in this slideshow command higher average salaries.
2. Chief Technology Officer
Another very common C-level job role for IT professionals is chief technology officer (CTO). This job role is more common in technology companies than in other industry sectors, and because the technology industry pays more than other sectors, the average pay for CTOs is actually higher than for CIOs. According to Salary.com, the average salary for a CTO in the US is between $207,035 and $288,782.
CTOs generally oversee the development of a company's technology products as well as providing the larger organization with guidance related to technology trends. They might also help determine the IT department's strategy and goals. They usually report to the CEO or the CIO.
3. Chief Data Officer
As big data and analytics have become more important to enterprises, the role of chief data officer (CDO) has become more common. CDOs oversee their organizations' databases, data warehouses, analytics, and other data-related technology. Most have a bachelor's degree, as well as relevant certifications, and they typically report to the CIO or CTO (although some report to the CEO). They usually manage a team of database administrators, data architects, data scientists, and other data-related professionals. According to Salary.com, average salaries for a chief data officer in the US range between $195,590 to $269,690.
4. Chief Security Officer/Chief Information Security Officer
Most large enterprises have a chief security officer (CSO) or chief information security officer (CISO) who is responsible for the organization's cybersecurity. They manage the security staff, administer the security budget, conduct audits, write policy, and oversee the investigation of security incidents. Some are also responsible for governance and evaluating risk throughout the organization. People who work in this field need extensive cybersecurity experience, including at least a bachelor's degree and related certifications. They typically report to the CIO or CTO. According to Salary.com, US salaries for CISOs range between $193,200 and $255,500.
5. Chief Privacy Officer
The European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) mandates that enterprises have a data protection officer. In order to fill this role, some organizations have appointed a chief privacy officer (CPO). CPOs are responsible for ensuring that a company protects the privacy of its customers and employees. They do this by writing and enforcing privacy policies, establishing privacy goals, and designing and implementing privacy controls. They often work closely with the CIO and/or chief data officer to ensure that IT systems have appropriate privacy protection in place, and they work with the CSO/CISO to investigate and mitigate data breaches. Many have legal backgrounds as well as technological expertise. According to Salary.com, the average US salary for a CPO ranges between $120,846 and $159,113.
6. Chief Analytics Officer
Organizations with a strong commitment to analytics sometimes appoint a chief analytics officer (CAO). This individual typically leads a data science team and oversees business intelligence, reporting, and other data analysis. CAOs establish an analytics strategy and report findings to the enterprise's top management. They might report to the CIO or the CEO, depending on the organization's structure. They often have bachelor's or master's degrees in business, as well as technical experience and skills. According to Salary.com, the average salary for a chief analytics officer ranges between $99,197 and $126,060.
7. Chief Engineering Officer
Enterprises with an engineering department often have a chief engineering officer. In some cases, this is a software engineering position, while in others it involves other types of engineering, such as mechanical, civil, or electrical. In general, a chief engineer not only oversees the engineering department, he or she also assumes responsibility for creating and updating the products created by the department. These individuals usually have at least a bachelor's in engineering or a very similar field and may have advanced degrees in their area of expertise. They almost always report to another C-level executive -- sometimes the CEO. Average pay for a chief engineering officer in the US ranges between $209,200 and $287,200.
8. Chief Innovation Officer
Chief innovation officer (or chief technology innovation officer) is a relatively new job role, and the responsibilities can vary from company to company. At some places, the chief innovation officer is literally the person who comes up with the organization's big ideas or greenlights ideas put forward by others. More often, however, the chief innovation officer is responsible for putting in place strategies and processes that encourage creativity and innovation throughout the organization, and many are experts in change management. They often have technology experience as well as business skills, and they often report to senior management. According to Salary.com, the US pay range for this job title is between $113,052 and $149,122.
9. Chief Digital Officer/Chief Digital Transformation Officer
Enterprises engaged in a very intentional digital transformation effort sometimes appoint a chief digital officer or a chief digital transformation officer. This is the person tasked with managing the transition from analog methods of doing business to digital ways of doing business. As such, they need to have a very good understanding of both emerging technological trends and the business side of operations, but it is more common for them to have business degrees than STEM degrees. As more enterprises complete these digital transformation projects, some industry watchers believe that the chief digital officer role will start to disappear. Others believe that it will simply morph into another strategic role that helps to keep business and IT aligned. According to Salary.com, average US salaries for this role range between $207,971 and $249,774.
10. Chief Experience Officer
Chief experience officer (CXO) is another relatively new job title with somewhat fluid responsibilities. In most cases, the CXO's job is to make sure that the customers' interaction with the brand is always positive. That can include the customers' interactions with the company's technology systems, as well as aspects of sales, customer service, and marketing. At some companies, the CXO also oversee employees' experience with the brand, overlapping somewhat with the HR function. Because this role is so broad, people come to the role with a very diverse background, but many have at least some technology experience. According to Salary.com, the average US salary for the role is between $172,310 and $274,273.
Cynthia Harvey is a freelance writer and editor based in the Detroit area. She has been covering the technology industry for more than fifteen years. View Full Bio