How much a CTO makes and where can I find CTO Jobs?

27 April 2024

Here's the thing, Iโ€™m kind of stuck trying to figure out what a CTO actually makes in terms of $$$, most of the people in the field are secretive about how much they're getting. It's not just about the money (okay, it's a bit about the money), but also understanding if the money is worth it for me to switch from my corporate job. Plus,I have no idea where to find CTO jobs. Is it all networking, or are there secret job boards that I'm not aware of where these positions pop up?

So, if you have insights into the transition to a CTO role, Iโ€™d love to hear about your experience. How does the pay scale look across different types of companies/startups? What's the typical salary range for a CTO in a tech startup? Are we talking a major jump from senior developer wages, or is it more about the shares and long-term payout?

Thanks a ton for any advice you can throw my way!


I’m glad to hear you’re considering a transition to a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) role. It’s a significant step, and understanding the financial aspects of the position is crucial for making informed decisions. Especially when the job you want to take on is highly stressful and will require a lot of overtime.

Experience and your background will heavily influence what you can command salary-wise. A CTO with a proven track record of successful projects and leadership in previous tech roles is likely to earn more. It’s also about the match between your skills and what the company is looking for. If you bring a specialty in a hot area like AI, or cybersecurity, you can often negotiate a higher salary.

Let’s dive into a detailed look of what you can expect salary-wise and tips on where to find these opportunities.

โœ… CTO salaries vary significantly based on company size, industry, and location as well as how much you will be liked by the shareholders. In a startup, for instance, while the base salary might initially seem lowerโ€”typically ranging from $75,000 to $100,000 โ€” you often have the potential for equity or stock options. These can be quite lucrative in the long run if the company succeeds.

If you’re thinking of joining a startup and you’re young and don’t have a family yet โ€” I would suggest you take on as much equity as you can. Take on as much risk as you can handle, you’re at a unique position of hitting it big, so use that opportunity.

Also if we’re talking about salaries โ€” never (or very rarely) work for free. If someone approaches you to be their CTO but they can’t pay you โ€” they’re most likely are trying to get you to build their product, so the question is why do you need them?

Established companies offer higher base salaries, generally from $150,000 to over $350,000, complemented by bonuses, benefits, and sometimes even more substantial equity options to bind you long term. These packages also include additional perks like comprehensive health insurance, retirement plans, and other executive-level benefits which can be very attractive.

โœ… The goal of the equity packages is to bind you to the company as much as they can. Your shares will be vested over X number of years so you can't cash them out until you've worked at the company for some time.

Geographic location also plays a critical role. In tech hubs like Silicon Valley or New York City, CTOs can command higher salaries due to the cost of living and the competitive market for tech talent. Here, salaries can easily range from $500,000 to $700,000 or more. However, with the rise of remote work, it’s becoming possible to earn competitive salaries while residing in areas with a lower cost of living.

The problem is โ€” landing the CTO job. It’s not like it’s advertised on the indeed website, and even if it is, most likely it was done purely to satisfy HR while the person has already been chosen long ago. Landing the job often depends heavily on your network and visibility in the tech community. Regular participation in industry conferences and seminars, as well as active engagement on professional networks like LinkedIn, can open many doors.

Make friends with recruiters especially those that do C-level recruitment, those can be a gold mine of opportunities if they ever receive a request to find the next CTO you might be the person they call. This whole transitioning process doesn’t happen overnight. It requires preparation, the right opportunities, and sometimes a bit of luck. Focus on building a solid foundation, establishing a robust professional network, and aligning yourself with the right opportunities that will further your career goals. The more visible you are the more lucky opportunities you will have, so make yourself visible.

In conclusion, while the financial rewards of a CTO position can be substantial, the role also demands a high level of dedication and strategic insight. I encourage you to continue building your skills and network and to approach this transition with a clear understanding of how it aligns with your long-term career goals.

More questions from users:

Hot! The last couple of years I've been writing about CTO / Tech lead job. I've compiled all my knowledge into a printable PDF. I called it "256 Pages of No Bullshit Guide for CTOs". So if you're interested, take a look.

New! If you're a software engineer looking for a job, I started a Roast my Resume service, where I record a personalized video of me "roasting" your CV, which basically means taking a hard look at your resume as a CTO and commenting on all the good and the bad parts.