CTO career path: How have the world's leading CTOs reached their position?


The role of Chief Technology Officer (CTO) is growing rapidly in prominence as companies increasingly seek specialists to drive strategic innovation and deliver IT solutions that add value to the business. They now earn an average annual salary of $161,579 (£128,809) in the UK and $169,535 worldwide, according to the 2016 Harvey Nash survey.

A CTO requires an understanding of the workings of the business and the technology within it and the technical leadership to maintains stability on the cutting edge of technology. Combining this expertise and acting as the face of technology for a company is a difficult skill-set to attain.

As the role of CTO remains relatively new and continues to develop, the career route to acquire them is still not a well-trodden path. Agile and Lean training consulting company agil8 analysed the careers of the some of the world’s top CTOs and broke down their moves into numbers to identify how they arrived at their positions.

Read next: What's the difference between a CIO and a CTO?

The CTOs analysed today lead the tech teams at eight of the biggest companies in the world. Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Adobe, and Qualcomm.

On average it took them 24 years to reach their roles after leaving higher education, by which point they had worked in four companies and in eight positions. The average maximum stay in any one position was five years and the minimum was one.

Kevin Lynchleft his role of CTO at Adobe Systems in 2013 after five years in the job to become vice president of technology at Apple. He was previously chief software architect at the software company. Lynch studied a BSc at the University of Illinois in Chicago and worked Frame Technology, General Magic and Macro Media before joining Adobe through its acquisition of the latter.

Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer became a CTO for the first time at the Sun Microsystems at the age of just 27, after it bought CenterRun, the software company he founded. Schroepfer had earned a Computer Science degree from Stanford University four years earlier and became Facebook CTO in 2013.

[Read next: CIO salary survey 2016 - CIO vs CTO vs CDO salaries in the UK]

Angus Foremanbecame Microsoft CTO at 24 in 2012, after fourteen years at the company in a number of different roles. He began his career in 1992 as a data manager at City Hospital, Edinburgh, after completing a BSc in Computer Science at Heriot-Watt University.

Amazon CTO and vice president Werner Vogels is another computer science graduate, who earned a PhD in the subject from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the Netherlands. He had stints conducting research at Institute for Systems and Computer Engineering, Technology and Science (INESC TEC) in Porto, Cornell University in the USA and finally Amazon, which he joined in 2004 and become CTO of the next year.

Kristof Kloecknerhas been CTO and General Manager of Technology and Innovation at IBM since 2015, the latest role in a long career at the company, the only one he has ever worked for. He joined IBM after completing a Ph.D. in Maths and Physics at Goethe University Frankfurt.

Read next: 3 challenges for every CTO

Hewlett-Packard CTO Shane Wall spent 14 years at Intel before joining its rival vendor in 2012 as CTO and SVP or printing and personal systems. He became HP CTO in 2015 and combines his current role with that of Director of HP Labs. He graduated from Oregon State University in 1988 with a BSc in computer engineering, electrical engineering and computer science, and then worked for another ten years at HP before founding his own company PrintPaks.

At 41-years-old, Adobe CTO Abhay Parasnis is the youngest CTO on the list. He began the role two years ago and now combines it with that of EVP. Parasnis previously led teams at led teams at Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, Kony, and i2, and has a BS in Electronics and Telecommunications from the College of Engineering Pune in India.

Matthew Grobbecame Qualcomm CTO in 2011. It is his fifth role at the company, the only one at which he has ever worked. His previous jobs include stints as an engineer, and as first VP and then SVP of engineering and of technology. He holds an MSc in electrical engineering from Stanford University.