Becoming an IT Executive: Salary Information & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a career as an IT executive? Read real job descriptions, career prospects and salary information to see if becoming an IT executive seems right for you.
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Pros and Cons of an IT Executive Career

IT (information technology) executives manage the information technology needs and systems of their employers, including implementing database and network designs, installing and upgrading software, ensuring systems security and troubleshooting computer issues throughout their organizations. Read on for some of the pros and cons of working as an IT executive to help you determine if it's the right job for you.

Pros of Working as an IT Executive
Job growth - employment expected to increase 15% between 2012 and 2022*
High annual salary (often above $100,000)*
Hold an essential leadership position within most companies*
Variety of work environments (nonprofit, government, corporation, small business), as position is needed in many industries*
May work almost anywhere geographically*

Cons of Working as an IT Executive
Must keep up with new and developing technology*
Potentially long hours (around 33% of IT executives worked beyond 40 hours per week in 2012)*
High-pressure environment - troubleshooting, systems security threats, deadlines and budget issues may all arise and need immediate attention*
Graduate-level education quickly becoming desired or expected by some employers*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Profile

Job Description and Duties

The job of an IT executive is to oversee the information technology needs of an organization including supervising subordinates, coordinating software implementation and upgrades, determining IT budget and equipment needs, and ensuring systems security. Depending on the kind and size of the organization, IT executives may be core contributors to the overall business strategy and budgetary outline. Some IT execs don't hold company-specific permanent positions but rather work as contractors - the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that in 2012, around 4% of computer and information systems managers worked on a contract basis providing computer systems design and related services.

IT execs sometimes have to work under pressure: deadlines, systems security threats or other unexpected issues may call for immediate attention and require longer work hours (possibly in evenings or on weekends) in order to produce a solution. In addition, professionals in this field must keep up with and continually acquire new programming, technical and software skills on pace with the emergence of new technologies, so you'll want to make sure you feel comfortable in this kind of fast-paced environment with an ongoing focus on learning new information.

Position Titles and Responsibilities

The actual job titles and corresponding duties of IT executives vary: positions can range from Chief Information Officer (CIO) to Chief Technology Officer (CTO) to IT directors to computer and information systems managers. While these are all distinct titles, the duties of each may overlap or look different among different organizations depending on the companies' size, scope and environment.

The CIO and CTO are high-level positions in a company and may be in charge of an organization's entire IT direction, budget and implementation as well as being tasked with keeping an eye on emerging technologies to assess their potential usefulness. IT directors assign and review the work of the IT team and coordinate a company's technological and information systems, while computer and information systems managers oversee programming, network, Internet, hardware and software considerations and supervise subordinate IT employees.

Career Prospects and Salary

Since information technology is an integral part of almost every contemporary organization, job opportunities abound. IT executives may work for the government, in nonprofit organizations or for corporations, and the BLS projects that employment in IT leadership positions will increase 15% between 2012 and 2022.

Although the salary range for IT executives varies widely according to qualifications and responsibilities, it is often six figures; the BLS lists the 2014 median salary for computer and information systems managers as $127,640. At the top levels of the IT executive field (with titles such as CIO or CTO), the 2012 median salary was at or above approximately $200,000, according to Salary.com.

What Is Required?

IT directors rely on a combination of education and experience to perform their jobs effectively. Most management positions in IT require at the minimum a bachelor's degree, usually in computer science, systems management or a related field. These degrees encompass classes in information systems, mathematics, statistics, programming and computer engineering. At the same time, hands-on experience is essential - these executives need technical expertise in an array of areas in order to address the comprehensive IT demands of an organization. Companies may use a range of software or programs, all of which the IT executive must have mastered.

In addition to technical knowledge, you'll want to have skills in business and communication as an IT manager. In a company environment, your work may include communicating with various types of people: higher management to discuss or request budget adjustments, subordinates to assign work or explain strategies and peer-level directors to explain new software or troubleshoot tech issues. Courses in business, management and communications are all advisable for aspiring IT executives.

What Employers Are Seeking

Though a number of employers are beginning to prefer candidates with advanced degrees, technical experience and expertise are still among the most universal requirements for IT executives (employers often seek candidates with 10 years or more of experience). Many jobs also call for proficiencies in business analysis and communications as well as experience in supervising employees. Here are a few examples of actual IT executive job postings in March 2012:

  • A nonprofit in Kentucky was looking for an IT director reporting directly to the CEO to be charge of IT planning and implementation and to play an active part in the organization's comprehensive business planning. A master's degree in computer science or an MBA was preferred.
  • A Georgia-based healthcare company sought a candidate to oversee the IT department, including supervising employees, with little supervision. Experience and knowledge of healthcare and insurance systems are listed as a plus.
  • An information sciences company in Baltimore called for a CTO responsible for conceiving and implementing the company's overall technology operations as well as overseeing IT personnel. Requirements include experience with technology start-up companies and server configuration.
  • An industry firm in Kansas City sought an IT manager with upward of 15 years of experience, as well as skills in systems and programming analysis, business planning and subordinate supervision. A bachelor's degree is listed as preferred.

How to Stand Out

Skills in business, management, communications and even finance can be major plusses for IT executives, so taking classes in these subjects as you acquire your bachelor's degree can increase your appeal as a candidate. In addition, a number of options beyond the bachelor's degree level can support your IT career aspirations.

Advanced Education and Certifications

While it is still only a preference for most employers, companies wanting IT executives with graduate degrees are increasing (according to the BLS, an MBA with an emphasis in technology is especially sought due to the increasing intersections between technology and business strategies). A report from Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce in January 2012 indicated that those who held master's degrees in information systems or computer science earned nearly twice as much annually as holders of the respective bachelor's degrees. For a less expensive option, many colleges offer certificates in executive-level business and management practices as well as in IT specialties that can help you stand out in the candidate pool.

It is essential for IT execs to stay up-to-date on both emerging technologies and new or updated versions of familiar technologies. Often, companies that produce a specific technology or software provide specialized training in it, resulting in a correlative certification that can be a significant addition to your resume. Since different workplaces use different technologies, it can be a good idea to develop expertise in a variety of them in order to broaden your employability.

Areas of Specialization

According to the BLS, as more and more business endeavors are moved and operated online, the security of information systems becomes more widely imperative. That makes information security an expanding employment area you may want to consider specializing in. Health services is another industry that is becoming ever more technological and thus offering corresponding job growth. Colleges offer certificate programs in both these areas that can help set you apart as a prospective employee.

Other Career Paths

If being an IT executive doesn't seem like the perfect career fit for you, there are a number of other positions in the IT industry you may prefer.

Computer Systems Analyst

Systems analysts tend to work in a specialized area, such as accounting or scientific systems, and assist organizations in determining, designing and implementing information systems necessary for their operations. A bachelor's degree and field-specific technical knowledge are frequently required qualifications. According to the BLS, the annual salary range for the middle 50% of computer systems analysts in mid-2008 was between $58,000 and $96,000.

IT Project Manager

IT project managers oversee particular projects or areas in the IT department, often serving as the company liaison to corresponding consultants and vendors. Though they may supervise subordinates, they don't shoulder the level of department responsibility IT executives do. According to Salary.com, IT project managers tend to earn a median income of approximately $70,000 to $100,000 depending on their qualification level.

Software Engineer

If you have less of an interest in running a department and more of an interest in computer systems theory and development, this job might be for you. Software engineers conceive and create a variety of software including operating systems, applications for businesses and even computer games. Their work may involve off-site travel to meet with clients or telecommuting as technological advances allow more interaction to be done virtually. A bachelor's degree in a field such as software engineering, computer science or mathematics is often required.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master: Information Technology - Project Management
      • MSM in Information Technology
      • Master: Information Technology
      • Master: IT/Information Security and Assurance
      • MS in Cybersecurity Management
    Bachelor's
      • BSIT - Information Management
      • Bachelor of Science in Information Technology
      • BSIT: Network Admin
      • BS in Information Technology/Information Security and Assurance
      • BS in Cybersecurity
    Associate's
      • Associate: Information Technology
      • AASIT: Network Admin
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Georgetown University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Masters of Professional Studies in Technology Management
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Johns Hopkins University

    Program Options

    Certificate
      • Post-Master's Certificate in Sequence Analysis and Genomics
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Baker College Online

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Information Systems - MSIS (Master's)
      • Cloud Security Risk Management - MBA (Master's)
      • Cloud Security Risk Management - MSIS (Master's)
      • Leadership Studies - MBA (Master's)
    Bachelor's
      • Information Technology and Security - Bachelor
      • Game Software Development - Bachelor
    Associate's
      • Information Technology - Associate
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Herzing University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Technology Management
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Accounting and Technology Management
      • MBA: Technology Management
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Project/Technology Management
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Business Management and Technology Management
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Public Safety Leadership and Technology Management
    Bachelor's
      • B.S. - Information Technology Admin and Management With No Declared Minor or Concentration
      • Bachelor: Technology Management
      • B.S. - Information Technology: Network Management Concentration
      • B.S. - Information Technology: Security Technology Concentration
    Associate's
      • Associate of Science - Information Technology Admin and Management
      • Associate of Science - Technology Studies
    Certificate
      • Networking Systems Certificate
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Colorado State University Global

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master - Information Technology Management
      • Graduate Specialization - Information Technology
    Bachelor's
      • BS - Information Technology
    Certificate
      • Graduate Certificate - Cyber Security
  • Campus and Online Programs
    7. The Art Institutes

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Visual & Game Programming (BS)
      • Visual & Game Programming (BA)
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Business Admin - Applied Computer Science
      • PhD in Business Admin - Applied Computer Science
      • Doctor of Business Admin - Computer and Information Security
      • PhD-TIM - Computer Science
      • PhD-TIM - Data Science
      • Doctor of Philosophy in Data Science
    Master's
      • MBA - Applied Computer Science
      • MSTIM - Information Systems
      • MSTIM - Computer Science
      • MSTIM - Data Science
      • Master of Science in Data Science
      • MBA - Management Information Systems
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Keiser University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • B.S.s - Management Information Systems
      • Bachelor of Science - Cyber Forensics/Information Security
    Associate's
      • Associate of Sciences - Information Technology
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Argosy University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Information Technology (BS)
    Associate's
      • Information Technology (AS)

Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • Master: Information Technology - Project Management
  • BSIT - Information Management
  • Associate: Information Technology

Which subject are you interested in?

Georgetown University

  • Masters of Professional Studies in Technology Management

What is your highest level of education completed?

Johns Hopkins University

  • Post-Master's Certificate in Sequence Analysis and Genomics

What is your highest level of education?

Baker College Online

  • Information Systems - MSIS (Master's)
  • Information Technology and Security - Bachelor
  • Information Technology - Associate

What is your highest level of education?

Herzing University

  • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Technology Management
  • B.S. - Information Technology Admin and Management With No Declared Minor or Concentration
  • Associate of Science - Information Technology Admin and Management
  • Networking Systems Certificate

What is your highest level of education?

Colorado State University Global

  • Master - Information Technology Management
  • BS - Information Technology
  • Graduate Certificate - Cyber Security

What is your highest level of education?

The Art Institutes

  • Visual & Game Programming (BS)
  • Visual & Game Programming (BA)

What is your highest level of education?

Northcentral University

  • Doctor of Business Admin - Applied Computer Science
  • PhD in Business Admin - Applied Computer Science
  • MBA - Applied Computer Science
  • MSTIM - Information Systems

What is your highest level of education?