How to Become a CIO

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A smiling cyber security professional sitting at a desk with coworkers.

Having a strong technology infrastructure is crucial for business success. Getting the right hardware and software solutions in place has a direct impact on a company’s quality, productivity, efficiency and profitability. At the same time, technology that improves processes or allows better data management must be implemented without compromising security. Companies that fail to achieve this balance can pay a great price.

The average cost of a data breach is $4.24 million, according to the 2022 edition of IBM’s annual “Cost of a Data Breach Report.”. These incidents appear to be getting more expensive over time, as the report notes this average is 12.7% higher than it was in 2020. What’s more, Cybersecurity Ventures predicts cyber crime will incur a global annual cost of $10.5 trillion by 2025.

For cyber security professionals who have their eye on the top rung of the corporate ladder, now is an auspicious time to make a move toward the C-suite by pursuing a master’s degree in cyber security. Organizations across all industries — from startups to government agencies and national and global corporations to nonprofits — are seeking out qualified individuals to fill C-suite positions to help them develop and maintain strong, secure technology infrastructure.

At the top of the ladder in this management field is the role of chief information officer, or CIO. A CIO is usually responsible for keeping a business’s data secure, but they’re also vital to keeping a company’s systems running efficiently as technology evolves. For those in the information technology field wondering how to become a CIO, it’s useful to start with learning about what the role typically entails.

What Does a CIO Do?

A CIO oversees a company’s IT-based systems and its processes. Through a combination of implementing new tech-driven innovations, managing existing technologies within a system and ensuring such systems are secure, they ensure that everything runs effectively and efficiently. From a big picture standpoint, these tasks can help an organization optimize its productivity in numerous ways, from enabling more streamlined communications across several data platforms to automating routine tasks.

Because IT and business technology constantly evolve, CIOs need to keep up with emerging and projected trends. These trends can directly involve systems or networks such as those related to wireless communication or cloud computing. They can also involve tech-driven functions like data analysis, Internet of Things applications and artificial intelligence.

CIOs are typically responsible for a variety of management-level organizational tasks and responsibilities as well. They may nurture business relationships with IT-related vendors or collaborate with other C-suite executives to develop best IT practices and IT-related growth strategies. Determining how technology and data solutions fit into or advance the organization’s strategic initiatives also is the responsibility of the CIO. Regardless of the initiative, the CIO must always have the company’s cyber security needs in mind.

How to Become a Chief Information Officer

The role of the CIO is complex, so it makes sense that the path to becoming a CIO is a layered one. These steps can help an individual gain and hone the essential knowledge and skills needed to exceed in a CIO role with confidence.

Step One: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

The minimum degree requirement for a CIO is a bachelor’s degree in a computer-related field. Earning a bachelor’s degree can allow individuals to establish the fundamental knowledge and key skills that will ultimately serve them throughout their career.

Step Two: Gain Experience

Individuals need to apply their knowledge in the real world to demonstrate their competency and develop both technical and management skills. Many undergraduate programs offer internship programs that can enable aspiring professionals to get a jump-start on this career path in a controlled setting. They can also develop their skill set by taking entry-level jobs in the IT field.

Step Three: Gain Certification

Gaining experience in the field can help an individual determine specific areas of IT work they may be particularly interested in pursuing. For example, a person may find themselves drawn to IT roles associated with cyber security. Having determined a specialization, an IT professional can more easily pursue the certifications that serve as credentials of experience and expertise in the IT industry.

Certifications in the industry are available in areas that range from software development to cyber security to project management.

Step Four: Earn an Advanced Degree

IT professionals who are interested in moving into leadership roles may consider whether a master’s degree is worth pursuing. Earning an advanced degree such as a Master of Business Administration or a Master of Science in Cyber Security can help bolster an individual’s knowledge and skill set. It may even open up new job opportunities, as some employers may prefer to hire individuals with an advanced degree. The combination of an advanced computer science degree and extensive work experience can also provide excellent qualifications for the CIO role.

CIO Skills

Because CIO duties combine IT knowledge and management responsibilities, those aspiring to the role should develop high-level skills that go beyond fundamental computing competencies. By getting a firm grasp on concepts like risk management and IT governance, for example, they can be better equipped to understand the impact of IT decisions on the company as a whole.

This blend of IT and management skills should be complemented by the more general competencies needed for success at the C-suite level, such as strong leadership and strategic planning skills. CIOs should also have solid change management skills in order to help effectively guide employees toward using new technologies. Those in the role should also have exceptional soft skills, such as interpersonal and communication skills.

CIO Salary

CIOs can play an instrumental role in a company’s growth and risk-management strategies, and salaries for the role are commensurate with that responsibility. According to Payscale, the median annual salary for CIOs as of July 2022 was around $169,500. Payscale also lists the median annual salary for the top 10% of earners in the role at around $253,000.

Be a Leader for the Future

A CIO’s role is to develop and implement strong IT strategies that can move a company forward while also keeping it safe from increasing and rapidly changing cyber crime threats. Because of the growing need for C-suite professionals who understand these risks, an advanced degree in cyber security can be a valuable step on the path to becoming a CIO.

With a 25:1 student-to-faculty ratio, the University of North Dakota’s cyber security master’s program allows students to work closely with cyber security experts. The program offers four certificate tracks — Cyber Security Analyst, Ethical Hacking, Computer Forensics and Secure Networks — preparing students to obtain cyber security certifications and pursue executive roles in cyber security.

Learn more about the program today to start on your path to the C-suite.

Recommended Reading:

Cyber Security and the Internet of Things: Examples and Trends

Important Women in STEM History 

Work-From-Home Cyber Security Jobs


Cybercrime Magazine, “Cybersecurity Jobs Report: 3.5 Million Openings in 2025”

Cybercrime Magazine, “Cybercrime to Cost the World $10.5 Trillion Annually by 2025”

IBM, How Much Does a Data Breach Cost in 2022?

Indeed, 15 Programming Certifications for IT Professionals

Indeed, How to Become a CIO in 5 Steps

Indeed, Role of a Chief Information Officer: What Does a CIO Do?

Investopedia, Chief Information Officer (CIO)

Payscale, Average Chief Information Officer (CIO) Salary

ZipRecruiter, What Is a CIO and How to Become One