How to be a CIO | Career Guide

Gerald Lombardo

Gerald Lombardo
January 11, 2023 8 min read

Are you interested in becoming a CIO? Popl is here to help with information about what the position entails, what skills you’ll need, what to expect in terms of day-to-day life, salary, and, more.

The role of CIO - or Chief Information Officer - is becoming increasingly common (and important) in the modern corporate world. Very few of today’s larger tech firms are without a CIO. It’s no wonder many technically-minded young executives are so interested in the position - it’s both “powerful” and “new,” making it the perfect spot for someone who wants to be involved in top-level decisions without having an overly-defined role with no room for creative improvement.

First things, though, perhaps the most often asked question about CIOs is: How is a CIO different from a CTO? The answer is actually pretty straightforward: The CIO focuses outward - on technology and products for a company’s customers. The CIO, on the other hand, looks inward at the processes and technologies a company uses to operate. Given this distinction, it’s clear why a company as large as, say, Google would need a CIO (Ben Fried) to manage the systems used by its 130K + employees.

how to be a CIO

What is a CIO?

A Chief Information Officer (CIO) is a senior executive responsible for the management and direction of all “inward-facing” technology-related activities within an organization. 

The CIO's primary responsibility is to develop and implement the organization's technology strategy, ensuring that it aligns with the overall business goals and objectives. The CIO also manages and oversees the implementation of new systems and technologies, as well as the maintenance and operation of existing systems. In addition, the CIO is responsible for ensuring that the organization's technology infrastructure is secure and compliant with relevant regulations.

What does a CIO do?

Here are some of the major responsibilities associated with the CIO position. Keep in mind, though, being a CIO fundamentally means brining new ideas and innovative technologies to the table. The best CIOs are not just implementers, they also have big ideas that help large organizations work in a better, more optimized way. 

  • Developing and implementing the organization's technology strategy: The CIO is responsible for ensuring that the organization's technology initiatives align with the overall business goals and objectives.
  • Partnering with other departments and senior leaders: The CIO works closely with other departments and senior leaders to ensure that the organization's technology initiatives support the overall business strategy.
  • Managing and overseeing the implementation of new systems and technologies: The CIO leads the development and implementation of new systems and technologies that will help the organization to achieve its goals.
  • Maintaining and operating existing systems: The CIO ensures that existing systems continue to function properly and that they are updated and maintained as necessary.
  • Ensuring the security and compliance of the organization's technology infrastructure: The CIO is responsible for ensuring that the organization's technology infrastructure is secure and compliant with relevant regulations.
  • Managing the IT budget and resources: The CIO is responsible for managing the budget and resources for the organization's technology initiatives.
  • Managing and leading the IT team: The CIO manages and leads the IT team, providing guidance and direction to ensure that the organization's technology initiatives are successful.
  • Staying current on the latest technology trends, and making recommendations on the adoption of new technologies: The CIO keeps abreast of the latest technology trends and makes recommendations on which new technologies the organization should adopt.

How to become a CIO

For the most part, the CIO position is largely associated with large companies. And most large companies will only hire CIOs with proven track records. Landing a CIO job is not like landing, say, a creative director position where a scattered resume might be ignored if the work is superb. The only way to really get a high-level CIO position is to show you’re capable of holding the position through a history of high-level management and one of several different organizations. 

In addition to lots of relevant experience, here are some things that can help you become a CIO:

  • Get your college degree: The majority of CIOs have a degree in computer science, information technology, or a related field. Having a relevant degree can help to demonstrate your knowledge and skills in the field of technology.
  • Get certified: Pursuing certifications such as those offered by vendor such as Microsoft, Cisco, AWS, or project management professional (PMP) can demonstrate a deeper level of expertise in certain specific areas of IT.
  • Build your business network: Yes, even for technical positions, building your matters. You can learn TONS about technology and your industry by networking with the right people. Go to conferences and events and simply talk to your peers, you'll be amazed at all the knowledge you can gain from friendly, casual conversation.
  • Develop leadership skills: CIOs are often expected to lead and manage teams, so it can be beneficial to develop your leadership skills. This can include learning how to motivate and inspire a team, how to effectively communicate with different stakeholders, and how to negotiate and resolve conflicts.
  • Get involved in industry organizations: Joining industry organizations such as the Society for Information Management (SIM) or the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) can provide opportunities to network with other professionals, attend conferences and events, and gain access to industry-specific resources and publications.
  • Take on additional responsibilities: Be proactive in taking on additional responsibilities and leading projects within your current role. This shows you have the drive and initiative to move up in your career, and can also help you to gain additional experience and skills.
  • Learn to communicate effectively with business leaders: As CIOs must communicate with other business leaders, it's important to understand the business side of the company and communicate effectively with non-technical leaders.

CIO skills

Here are some important skills for being a Chief Information Officer:

  • Technical knowledge: A CIO should have a strong understanding of various technologies and how they can be used to support the organization's goals and objectives.
  • Leadership and management skills: A CIO should be able to lead and manage teams, including providing direction and guidance to IT staff, and being able to effectively communicate with different stakeholders within the organization.
  • Strategic thinking: A CIO should be able to think strategically and develop technology plans and initiatives that align with the organization's overall business goals and objectives.
  • Business acumen: A CIO should have a good understanding of the business side of the company and be able to align technology strategy with business goals and requirements.
  • Project management skills: A CIO should be able to manage multiple projects and initiatives at the same time, and be able to keep track of the progress of each project.
  • Vendor management: CIOs are responsible for managing relationships with vendors and service providers and being able to evaluate, negotiate and manage contracts.
  • Communication and presentation skills: A CIO should be able to effectively communicate complex technical concepts to non-technical stakeholders and to present ideas and solutions in a clear and compelling manner.
  • Change management: A CIO should be able to manage change effectively and be comfortable with leading change initiatives within the organization.
  • Mental flexibility: A CIO should be able to adapt and respond quickly to changing business needs and technology trends
  • Risk management: A CIO should be able to identify and mitigate any risks associated with technology implementation and operation, to minimize negative impacts on the organization.

How much do CIOs make?

Chief Information Officer

How much a CIO makes depends, naturally, on the company and situation. Generally, though, CIO are usually among the top salaried employees within a company and can sometimes even qualify for performance-based bonuses.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for computer and information systems managers, which includes CIOs, was $152,860 in May 2020.

However, the salary for a CIO can range significantly, with some CIOs earning well over $200,000 per year, while others may earn less than $100,000 per year, depending on the factors mentioned above. Some of the higher paying industries for CIOs include the finance, healthcare and technology sector.

It's also worth noting that CIOs may also be eligible for other forms of compensation, such as bonuses and stock options, which can significantly increase their overall earning potential.

It's also worth noting that compensation can vary region by region, so it might be worth checking current salary survey specific to your region, or consulting a specialist recruitment agency.

Famous Chief Information Officers

Here are some inspiring CIOs to look to for advice, guidance, or simply inspiration:

  • Ajit Kumar: Aan Kumar of MindTree is a long-time senior executive who brings innovative solutions to long-help operational challenges.
  • Sunny Azadeh: Sunny Azadeh is GlobalLogic’s respected long-time CIO.
  • Arthur Hu: Arthur Hu sits at the helm of Lenovo’s impressive information infrastructure. 

Best resources for aspiring CIOs

There are many “extra-curricular” activities you can participate in if you’re working your way toward becoming a CIO. In fact, such activities are just the sort of thing that will set you apart from the pack. Here are some ways you can more actively pursue your goal of becoming a CIO.

  • Professional organizations: Joining professional organizations such as the Society for Information Management (SIM) or the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) can provide access to networking opportunities, conferences and events, and industry-specific resources and publications.
  • Online courses: There are many online courses and certifications that can help aspiring CIOs to develop specific skills and knowledge, such as project management, data analysis, and security. Platforms like Coursera, Udemy and LinkedIn Learning provides a wide variety of options to chose from.
  • Books and publications: There are many books and publications available that provide insights and advice on leadership, management, and technology trends. Some recommended books for CIOs includeThe CIO Paradox: Battling the Contradictions of IT Leadership by Martha Heller andThe CIO's Dilemma by Daniel B. Stang.
  • Networking and mentorship: Networking and mentorship can be incredibly valuable for aspiring CIOs. Connecting with current or former CIOs can provide guidance, advice and open doors to new job opportunities.
  • Professional development and training: As CIOs are expected to be well-versed in the latest technologies and trends, it is important to invest in professional development opportunities and stay current with the latest technologies and methodologies.
  • Conferences and events: Attending conferences and events can provide opportunities to network with other professionals and stay current on the latest technology trends. Some conferences such as CIOsynergy are specifically geared toward CIOs and offer valuable professional development.

How to be a CIO | Conclusion

how to become a CIO

Congratulations, you’ve gotten this far! Even reading an article like this is a step toward achieving your goal of becoming a CIO. The next step? Start learning some new skills and consider watching videos or even taking e-courses about internal systems management and the most popular information systems used by big companies. The key is not to get lost in too much research, especially if you’re still early in your career. Learn by doing - and, importantly, learn to enjoy quality work in your day-to-day life. Having goals is important, but don’t let long-term goals cloud your present. Focus on doing quality work every day, and taking small steps toward your larger goals. Do this and you will surely end up in the CIO chair, 


Good luck!


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