The highest-paid CEO in the tech industry (Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella) makes $84.3 million a year. Of course, not every CEO in Silicon Valley pulls in that kind of cash, but their average salaries are definitely worth noticing.
What does it take to make it to the top in the tech industry? How similar are the backgrounds, education, and experiences of C-Level executives and tech directors? Are these Silicon Valley senior managers cut from the same cloth, or have they traversed a different path to reach the highest levels of corporate leadership?
To understand their journeys and what it might take to earn their titles, we looked at our own resume database of C-levels and directors in the tech industry. Keep reading to see what we found.
Your Average Executive
Out of the C-level executives examined, almost 30 percent have spent over 20 years in the workforce with seven years spent in their specific industries. These leaders are usually (in nearly 80 percent of cases) male, and close to 80 percent of C-level executives have an average of three years in their role or other similar positions. This could also mean they’ve been in more than one C-position (such as a COO, or Chief Operating Officer, who then transitioned into a CEO, or Chief Executive Officer, role).
While both levels share management and leadership as their top specialties, the average C-level executive is also extremely knowledgeable in startups, strategy, and software development. Tech directors are more inclined toward project management, integration, and enterprise software.
C-Level Exec Education and Tenure, by Industry
C-level executives across the tech industry have varying levels of education and years in the workforce.
C-level execs in software development and other online business sectors are the most likely to have a bachelor’s degree (over 56 percent). Over half of those surveyed in IT and hardware development also have a bachelor’s degree, with only security and networking reporting less than that.
However, at least 32 percent of C-level executives across these fields have a master’s degree, with the most in IT (almost 40 percent). For those seeking even higher education (and distinction among peers), around 4 to 12 percent of executives have a Ph.D., with the highest percentage of these individuals working in security and networking.
Those in security and networking are also the most likely to have the least amount of time under their belts, while the most tenured executives are in hardware development. Most have spent fewer than three years in their C-level position, but have between roughly six and eight years in the industry.
Tech Director Education and Tenure, by Industry
While fewer tech directors have earned a Ph.D., at least half of directors in the industries examined have a bachelor’s degree, and 30 percent have a master’s. However, this percentage increases to 40 percent when we look at IT, security and networking, and hardware development.
Similar to C-level executives, directors have at least six years of experience in the industry. Directors in IT, software development, and other online businesses also have the highest average numbers of years spent as director.
Women in C-Level Positions
Despite efforts in the tech industry to diversify the upper echelons of leadership, many of the C-level and director positions studied are held by men.
We found the strongest female presence in IT and other online business C-level positions, which are the only areas in the industry where women occupy more than 10 percent of the highest levels of company leadership. While women generally spend as much time in the workforce as men, they spend less time in the tech industry by about two years on average.
Women in Tech Director Positions
Unlike C-level positions, women have a much stronger presence in director-level leadership roles.
At the low end, around 17 percent of hardware development and security and networking positions and about 23 percent of IT and software development positions are held by women. However, women staff more than 27 percent of other online business director positions.
Women in director positions are also more likely to have five years or less of experience in the workforce and are even less likely to have more than five, 10, or 20 years of work experience compared to their male equivalents. They spend roughly two years less in the industry but still have about the same amount of tenure in director-level positions.
C-Level Execs vs. Tech Directors
Overall, the executive-level leadership positions examined specialize in management and leadership skills.
While management is the most frequently listed specialty for C-level executives and tech directors, C-level execs are more likely to emphasize knowledge and skill in startups, strategy, and software development. As some of the highest levels (outside of owners and partners) within any tech organization, these competencies help elevate and differentiate C-level candidates from director-level staff. Entrepreneurship is also more commonly linked to C-level leaders.
Director-level positions still represent a considerable accomplishment in one’s career (as well as a significant pay increase over positions like associate directors and project managers) and usually require concentrations in project management, integration, and enterprise software to be successful.
Most Tenured C-Level Execs, by City
We found the most experienced C-level executives are in Seattle, Portland, and Boston. Executives from these cities have almost nine years of experience in the industry. Despite the many high-profile tech companies with headquarters in Northern California, only San Francisco and Sacramento made our list of the most experienced C-level employees.
We also found C-level professionals with the lowest level of experience in Miami. Brooklyn and Santa Monica average five years of experience, while Mountain View (home to Google) averages fewer than six years of experience.
Most Tenured Tech Directors, by City
Those holding director-level titles in Columbia, Sarasota, and Allentown are found to be the most experienced, with over nine years of experience in their industries. Unlike those in C-level positions, directors in Silicon Valley cities like San Francisco and Palo Alto average eight years of experience or more.
The least experienced cities include Brooklyn, New York; United, Pennsylvania; and Irvine, California, with fewer than five years of experience each on average.
Common C-Level Education and Experience
When it comes to C-level executives in companies with fewer than 50 employees to more than 10,000 employees, we found education and experience typically increase as company size expands. For companies with 50 to 1,000 employees, more than half of C-level execs have a bachelor’s degree, and 34 to 42 percent have a master’s degree. Less than 7 percent of C-level positions in companies of these sizes have earned a Ph.D.
For companies with over 1,000 (but under 10,000) employees, it is more common for C-Level executives to have a master’s degree than a standard four-year bachelor’s, and more candidates at companies employing over 1,000 people have earned a Ph.D. (between 11 and 12 percent).
While the average number of years in the industry also increases as company size expands, years spent at C-level positions follow a different trend. Those at companies with between 101 and 1,000 employees spend the most time in similar positions, while C-level executives at companies with fewer than 50 employees and those with more than 10,000 employees have roughly the same amount of time in a role comparatively.
Common Tech Director Education and Experience
Like C-level executives, those working as directors have increasing levels of education concurrent with the growth of their companies, but more, on average, have only received a bachelor’s degree. Sixty percent or more of directors in organizations with fewer than 50 and up to 1,000 employees have a bachelor’s degree, while around between 33 and 37 percent have earned a master’s. No more than 5 percent of directors in any sized organization we looked at have obtained a Ph.D.
For directors, tenure in a role and industry generally increases as company size expands. While those in organizations with 50 or fewer employees average over six years of experience in an industry and over two years as directors, those in the largest organizations (more than 10,000 employees) have over eight years of experience in the industry and approach three years in a role.
Climbing the Corporate Ladder
In a male-dominated, well-educated field, making it to a C-level or tech director position can be a challenge. While there are average levels of experience – seven or more years working within an industry – it doesn’t mean these jobs are unattainable. Using Paysa, you can see the skills required and expected compensation as you work your way up the tech ladder.
We analyzed C-level and tech director information from our own resume database from four different tech industries.
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