How to Become a CIO in 5 Steps

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated February 22, 2021 | Published March 30, 2020

Updated February 22, 2021

Published March 30, 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Becoming a high-level executive such as a chief information officer (CIO) requires a great deal of both education and experience. CIOs hold major leadership positions within companies and manage all technology initiatives and related areas. They bring the worlds of business and technology together every day to help their organizations reach success.

In this article, we discuss what a chief information officer does, explain how to become one and answer several common questions about them.

What is a chief information officer?

A chief information officer, chief digital information officer (CDIO) or information technology (IT) director is a company executive responsible for the implementation and management of information technologies. As the use of technology increases across all industries, the demand for skilled CIOs also increases. These executives analyze how certain technologies either benefit or improve the business and its processes. Once they decide on a new technology, CIOs develop a system of integrating the technology into the necessary levels of the organization.

Related: 20 In-Demand Information Technology Jobs That Pay Well

What do chief information officers do?

The role of chief information officers previously involved the maintenance of internal computers, networks and databases. In recent years, the role became more focused on cloud computing, data analytics, wireless communications and mobile devices. The primary function of a CIO is to develop strategies and systems that keep their organization competitive in a changing market. CIOs also predict how technology might change in the near future according to current trends. Proper analysis of these trends leads to advantages over other businesses as it influences major decisions.

Related: What is a CTO? CTO Responsibilities and Steps to Become a Chief Technology Officer

How to become a chief information officer

If you're interested in becoming a chief information officer, follow these steps:

  1. Earn a four-year degree.

  2. Gain experience in project management.

  3. Identify a specialty or niche.

  4. Gain experience in information technology governance.

  5. Earn an M.B.A.

1. Earn a four-year degree

The first step in your career journey involves earning a Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science or a related field. Some programs offer additional certification, such as the Cisco Certified Network Associate certification. This and similar certifications often make you more competitive when promotions become available. If possible, take internship opportunities while in school or shortly after graduation. The experience you gain this early in your career helps build your potential possibilities later on by significantly enhancing your resume.

Related: 10 Top IT Certifications to Explore

2. Gain experience in project management

Due to the nature of their job, earning project management skills puts CIO aspirants ahead of the competition. Take additional courses in this area in school if you're able. If any project management opportunities become available in the workplace, sign up for them if you can. Additionally, in your off time, research and earn certifications such as Project+ from CompTIA or the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification online.

Related: How to Get a PMP Certification

3. Identify a specialty or niche

While earning your bachelor's degree, take note of the classes you do well in and identify an area you prefer. Choosing a niche at this stage prepares you for CIO roles focused within that niche and makes you more qualified for the role. Once you have a specialty area in mind, research additional certifications that specifically address your chosen area. Earn them in your spare time and add them to your resume. Doing so builds your portfolio and establishes your technical credibility.

4. Gain experience in information technology governance

Successful CIOs have a thorough understanding of both risk management and IT governance. Both require deep knowledge and advanced skills, such as risk assessment and database management. These subject areas are often considered very advanced, and many professionals learn them in their mid to late career. Courses are available online, in seminars and sometimes by individual organizations.

5. Earn an MBA

After earning five or more years of experience after earning your bachelor's degree, consider returning to school for a Master of Business Administration (MBA). Earning an executive-level position within a company often requires an MBA. These programs are also beneficial in uniting your technology knowledge with advanced business knowledge, a critical asset for CIOs. While earning this degree or shortly after, look for leadership or management opportunities within your organization or others. For opportunities for advancement to a CIO position, you need managerial experience.

Upon earning your MBA, expect years to pass within your managerial roles before an executive position becomes available. CIOs need extensive experience in technology, business and leadership roles before most organizations consider hiring them.

Chief information officer FAQs

Here are answers to common questions regarding the role of a chief information officer:

  • Do CIOs have full control of technology within a company?

  • What skills do CIOs need?

  • What is the work environment like for CIOs?

  • What is the work schedule like for CIOs?

Do CIOs have full control of technology within a company?

CIOs have primary control over technology and related areas within an organization. There are situations in which the requirements for technology impact other areas of the organization. For example, if a CIO needs additional resources to implement new technologies, the executive must meet with the CEO and other executives to agree on resource allocation. Additionally, any major changes to the technology of a company require that all executives reach an agreement.

What skills do CIOs need?

Successful CIOs have the following skills and qualities:

  • Change management skills grant CIOs the ability to help every level of the company cope with technology changes.

  • Leadership skills help in managing a large company's technologies and its individual IT teams.

  • Interpersonal skills help CIOs communicate effectively with both executives and management at all levels as they implement new strategies.

  • Strategic planning skills help CIOs develop new technologies and methods that improve business processes.

What is the work environment like for CIOs?

CIOs spend most of their day in an office in front of a computer or a boardroom making decisions. They keep up with new advancements and work in a very fast-paced technology environment. CIOs hold both responsibility and accountability for all technology initiatives within a company.

What is the work schedule like for CIOs?

In most circumstances, CIOs are full-time executive positions. The Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that a large percentage of them work more than 40 hours each week, especially during the event of a crisis.

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