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Become a Systems Executive: Education and Career Roadmap

Jul 15, 2018

Research the requirements to become a systems executive. Learn about the job description and duties and read the step-by-step process to start a career in information technology. View article »

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Become a Systems Executive

Systems executives, who are more commonly referred to as chief technology officers or chief technical officers (CTO), typically oversee all of the information technology functions within an organization. They have a variety of duties, including infrastructure planning and operations, project management, and integrating business processes with the appropriate technologies. The CTO also develops and implements information technology initiatives and maintains existing enterprise systems.

The majority of systems executives work at least full-time, and longer hours may be required by projects and/or deadlines. As with other executive positions, salaries associated with work as a systems executive are generally excellent. Most work primarily in an office setting but travel to conferences, other offices, and long-distance meetings may be needed.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree typically required; some positions may prefer a master's degree
Degree Field Computer science, math, engineering, computer information systems, or related fields
Experience 5-10 years of experience
Key Skills Excellent oral and written communication skills, ability to work collaboratively, analytical skills, decision making skills, leadership skills, organizational skills, experience working with JavaScript, SQL server, C#, .NET Framework, HTML, and Microsoft Visual Basic
Salary (2016) $149,978 yearly (median for CTOs)

Sources: Job postings by employers, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, PayScale.com

Now let's check out the career steps for systems executives.

Career Steps

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

A bachelor's degree is the minimum educational requirement for working as a CTO. This degree can be in a variety of subjects, including computer science, engineering, and computer information systems. As a student in a computer science degree program, one can expect to take coursework in advanced programming, programming languages, database design, discrete mathematics, computer engineering and data communication and networking. The curriculum for a bachelor's in computer information systems includes advanced business programming language, systems analysis, information security, and management and design of database systems.

To really stand out in your program, consider a cooperative education program. Cooperative education programs combine traditional classroom-based learning with practical work experience. Students enrolled in this type of program typically alternate semesters of school and work. By participating in a cooperative education program, students can gain real world work experience, establish professional connections and gain the skills that are in demand as a CTO.

It is also important to develop strong technical skills and knowledge of programming languages. Employers require CTOs to have experience with a variety of programming languages and computer software. These include JavaScript, C#, SQL server, Microsoft Visual Basic, and .NET framework. By developing strong technical skills and knowledge of these types of technologies, one can become a strong candidate upon entering the job market.

Additionally, consider an internship. Completing an internship is an excellent way to gain the practical work experience that is highly valued by employers. Students can pursue internship opportunities during the summer or inquire about internships at their universities.

Step 2: Consider a Master's Degree

Some employers prefer candidates who have earned a master's degree, and earning an advanced degree may increase employment opportunities. In addition to master's programs in computer science or computer information systems, one may want to consider earning a Master of Business Administration (MBA). Completing these types of master's degree programs prepares one for managerial positions in the fields of computer information systems or computer science.

Master's degree programs in computer science and computer information systems provide students with advanced training in courses such as IT strategy and management, information systems analysis and design, applied data engineering, and software architecture. Many MBA programs offer technology concentrations. Other master's degree programs, such as management information systems with relevant business coursework, can also be advantageous.

Step 3: Gain Work Experience

Most employers prefer a minimum of five years of work experience for CTOs. Entry-level and mid-level positions in this field include computer systems analyst, network administrator, programmer, systems architect, and computer systems administrator. Nearly all computer-related positions require strong analytical and problem-solving skills to develop, apply, and troubleshoot technology.

Step 4: Get a Job as a CTO

CTOs can find employment in a variety of industries, including computer systems design, finance and insurance, manufacturing, and government. One can expect responsibilities such as implementing technology plans, recommending and designing appropriate technology solutions, implementing software development, and analyzing new technologies. Most CTOs report directly to the chief information officer.

To recap, with postsecondary education and experience, a systems executive can earn about $150,000 a year to oversee all of the information technology functions within an organization.

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