CTO vs. VP of Engineering: Key Differences To Know

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published April 25, 2022

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.

In the tech industry, people often conflate executive-level titles like CTO and VP of engineering. While both of these positions are part of senior management, they have distinct differences in their duties and focus. Learning more about these roles can help you pursue a career path that suits your skills and interests. In this article, we discuss the differences between a CTO and a VP of engineering.

Related: How To Write a VP of Engineering Resume in 6 Easy Steps

What is a CTO?

A CTO, or chief technology officer, is an executive-level manager who oversees an organization's IT systems. They develop a comprehensive strategy to ensure the software, hardware and technological processes align with the company's goals. CTOs may have responsibilities like monitoring budgets and hiring staff, but their main concern is with the company's long-term development and innovation.

Related: What Is a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and What Do They Do?

What is a VP of engineering?

A VP of engineering is a senior manager who supervises the design, building and use of machines and structures. These professionals typically work in the tech industry but can specialize in various fields that conduct engineering projects. VPs of engineering have operational roles that allow them to lead teams of engineers and designate the technical architecture of projects.

Related: How To Become a Vice President of Engineering

CTO vs. VP of engineering

Here are some differences between a CTO and a VP of engineering:

Average salary

The average salary for a chief technology officer is $152,833 per year, while VPs of engineering make an average of $180,986 per year. These amounts can vary based on where the person lives, what credentials they obtain and how much experience they have. Both professionals may increase their earning potential by specializing in certain industries. For instance, a VP of engineering who wants to maximize their salary might pursue a position in scientific research or manufacturing. Similarly, fields like computer systems design and finance help CTOs increase their earning potential.

Related: How To Write a Chief Technology Officer Resume (With Sample)

Job outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 4% increase in the employment of all architectural and engineering managers from 2020 to 2030. This positive growth helps provide VPs of engineering with job security, especially those who pursue careers in civil, mechanical or electrical engineering. The job outlook for CTOs is even more promising, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts an 11% increase in the employment of all computer and information systems managers from 2020 to 2030. As the demand for outsourced IT services increases, CTO positions are going to be especially prevalent at cloud-computing companies.

Related: Learn About Being a CTO (Chief Technology Officer)

Work environment

CTOs and VPs of engineering have similar work environments, as they spend most of their days at a desk. Computer-based duties include submitting employee evaluations, responding to emails and creating presentations. These professionals may experience a change of scenery by attending meetings and traveling to conferences. As executive board members, CTOs and VPs of engineering often work more than 40 hours per week. Strict deadlines and the constant demand for supervision may lead these professionals to complete tasks in the evenings or on weekends.

Focus

One of the main differences between CTOs and VPs of engineering is their focus. A chief technology officer emphasizes the long-term success of their organization by guiding technical strategy and researching competitors to ensure innovation. While VPs of engineering also strive to be competitive, they more heavily focus on the daily operations of their engineering teams. They directly supervise employees, delegate tasks and define project requirements to optimize productivity.

Duties

VPs of engineering have more direct interaction with engineering teams. They supervise projects, conduct performance reviews and oversee quality assurance campaigns. These professionals also motivate team members and advocate for resources to help them succeed. Because CTOs are more concerned with the organization's long-term vision, their duties are more behind-the-scenes. They stay up-to-date with the latest technological trends and implement infrastructure that aligns with the organization's needs. CTOs also develop protocols, monitor budgets and act as the organization's spokesperson by presenting at conferences and speaking to the press.

Related: CEO vs. CTO: What's the Difference? (Plus Salary Information)

Collaboration

Both CTOs and VPs of engineering possess good interpersonal skills that allow them to work with teams and communicate their ideas. VPs of engineering typically have personal relationships with team members, ensuring they have the necessary support to fulfill their duties. CTOs typically have more interactions with the press and other board members to promote the company's best interests. A CTO might even establish relationships with vendors and build connections with important clients.

Related: CIO vs CTO: Differences, Similarities and Career Paths

Opportunities at smaller companies

Many professionals look for positions at startups, as these new companies give you more responsibilities and opportunities to innovate. If you're interested in working at a startup, consider becoming a CTO. New companies usually employ CTOs to manage their IT systems and perform the duties of a VP of engineering. The lack of a formal VP of engineering position is usually because of the limited resources for personnel and startups' tendency to centralize duties. While CTOs at startups have many responsibilities, it can be an exciting challenge for ambitious professionals.

As a startup grows, it acquires more resources that make it appropriate to hire a formal VP of engineering. Those who start as CTOs at newer companies may find it easier to transition to this position when it becomes available. Your familiarity with the company and experience managing engineering teams can qualify you for this role. If you're interested in working at a larger company, you can find positions as either a CTO or VP of engineering. Both roles are essential for the everyday operation and long-term success of organizations in industries ranging from manufacturing and software development to transportation.

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