CTO vs CIO vs VP of Engineering: Key differences

CIO vs CTO vs VP of engineering

How many articles have you read on ‘CTO vs CIO vs VP of Engineering’?

Not that many, probably.

Most guides and content pieces comparing these roles focus on the responsibilities of CTOs and VPs of Engineering. They don’t mention CIOs — a C-level executive becoming more valuable for organisations — and their correlations and differences with other tech leaders.

In this blog post, we’ll fill that gap by sharing (exactly) what these professionals do and a role-to-role comparison between the three.

Whether you are a senior engineer looking for a career path guide or a business leader responsible for decisions like building a dedicated development team, this article is for you.


The CTO, CIO and VP of Engineering roles

Before diving into the differences between CTOs, CIOs, and VPs of Engineering, let’s start by looking at their tasks and responsibilities.

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What does a CTO do?

CTOs manage organisations’ technology policies and align them with business goals. They lead the process of creating and delivering new technologies for customers, driving growth.

A CTO is responsible for the following duties:

  • Overseeing the development and innovation of tools and technologies.
  • Taking ownership of the entire development and delivery process.
  • Focusing on external customer needs and market trends.

Depending on the organisational structure, CTOs report to the company’s CIO or directly to the CEO.

CTOs Previous Roles

What does a CIO do?

CIOs are generally the top IT executives in a company. They manage the organisation’s IT infrastructure, focusing on aspects like cybersecurity, data management, and improving systems performance.

A CIO is responsible for the following duties:

  • Aligning IT infrastructure with strategic goals.
  • Formulating and owning the corporate IT strategy.
  • Analysing and predicting upcoming technologies to gain a competitive advantage.

The CIO’s role has evolved from being the #1 company’ tech guru in the 1980s to becoming a strategic business leader today.

What does a VP of Engineering do?

VPs of Engineering oversee higher-level managers in the engineering department. They lead development teams and manage budgets.

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A VP of Engineering is responsible for the following duties:

  • Collaborating with product, sales, and marketing teams to bring products to market.
  • Executing the engineering strategy established by the CTO and ensuring that teams achieve their goals.
  • Administrating the budget for the engineering department and making critical choices on acquiring tools and technologies.

VPs of Engineering normally report to companies’ CTOs. However, in smaller organisations, they may report directly to the CEO.

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CTO vs CIO vs VP of Engineering comparison

Now that we’ve described the roles and responsibilities of these three tech and business leaders, it’s time to compare them.

To make your life easier, we’ve designed an infographic table sharing the key differences between CTOs, CIOs, and VPs of Engineering. It breaks down their job levels, people skills, and main tasks.

Difference CTO vs CIO vs VP of engineering


The main difference between a CTO and a CIO is that the first focuses on external products, while the second focuses on internal processes.

What do we mean by that?

CTOs lead the development of products and services to meet customer needs. For example, a FinTech CTO can oversee a company’s app infrastructure development and payment engineering so users can pay safely.

CIOs develop and implement technology strategies to support business goals. For example, a large corporation’s CIO can modernise data management to enable the organisation to make informed decisions on its future.

CIO vs VP of Engineering

Of the three roles we are comparing in this article, the CIO and VP of Engineering are the ones that are the most distant from one another.

Within the hierarchical structure of an organisation, the CIO sits at the top, just under the CEO and next to other C-level executives like CFOs or CMOs. A VP of Engineering reports to the CTO (who often reports to the CIO) and manages IT Directors and Engineering Managers.

CIOs hold at least +10 years of experience in IT and often possess a Master of Business Administration (MBA). Although VPs of Engineering must have a long and reputed tech career to succeed in their roles, they typically lack the business acumen CIOs have.

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When discussing tasks, a CIO selects and monitors the IT assets in an organisation, and a VP of Engineering works closely with developers, setting them goals and delivery schedules.

CTO vs VP of Engineering

To compare the CTO and VP of Engineering roles, we need to talk about talent management.

CTOs are (in most cases) the executives responsible for assembling an elite engineering team, while VPs of Engineering are in charge of managing those developers.

As CTOs’ tasks are more technical, they are on top of the latest innovations and know exactly what the organisation needs to thrive. That’s why they are constantly looking for professionals who can contribute to developing best-of-class products.

VPs of Engineering tasks are more oriented to project management and process optimisation and are known for being excellent team leaders.

Put simply, CTOs build tech teams and set a technical strategy, and VPs of Engineering lead tech teams and ensure the strategy is well executed.

CTO vs VP of engineering

Final thoughts: CTO vs CIO vs VP of Engineering differences

The CTO, CIO, and VP of Engineering roles are sometimes used interchangeably.

And that’s a gross mistake.

As you’ve read in this comparison article, these three tech leadership positions have more differences than similarities.

CTOs innovate for customer needs and business growth by leading the development of external products and services.
CIOs handle internal processes, ensuring IT functions support business goals and enhance competitiveness.
VPs of Engineering lead engineering teams, collaborate on product launches, execute CTO's strategy, and manage budgets.

Now, if you’ve read this far and are a tech business leader, ask yourself: where can I find top talent aligned with my company’s mission and culture?

Hint: (probably) not in your region.

At The Scalers, we build 100% dedicated software development teams with world-class talent in Bangalore, ‘The Silicon Valley of Asia.’ The type of talent CTOs and VPs of Engineering aspire to work with.

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There’s nothing quite like The Scalers where our employees are literally our employees, not coming through any third party company. They know our culture, and our clients so they can execute meaningful code and deliver meaningful features.
Sirisha Surisetty
Sirisha Surisetty
VP of Engineering, Nextpoint

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