What is the path you should follow to become a Chief Data Officer?

Within the past few years, tremendous changes have occurred relating to how business is done and, the digitalization of data is one of many. Data is one of a company’s greatest assets as it informs the company of crucial changes in the consumers’ behavioral patterns and other external factors.

However, it is one thing to gather information and another thing entirely to leverage this data for the benefit of an organization. This ability to collect data, find its value, monetize the data, and use it to keep ahead of the competition, among other factors, is the reason why a chief data officer’s role is one that companies take very seriously today.

For many data professionals, the position of the Chief Data Officer is the pinnacle of their career. Two decades ago, the job didn’t even exist. As of 2018, a survey by Forbes showed that 67.9% of companies had appointed a Chief Data Officer. Researchers at Gartner estimated that 9 in 10 companies would have a Chief Data Officer by the end of 2019.


Who is a Chief Data Officer?

A Chief Data Officer in an organization whose job is to keep a sharp eye out for a range of possible alternatives shown by available data that can positively impact the organization they represent. Chief Data Officers are senior executives responsible for the utilization and governance of data across the organization. 

It is a CDO’s job to:

  • Ensure that the company’s data is of top-notch quality,
  • Initiate forward-thinking, innovative ways for data to be used to differentiate the company from competitors in the market,
  • Devise analytic strategies that will bring about optimum utilization of the available data to analyze business outcomes,
  • Use the available data to understand patterns and trends, such as how decisions made by the company affect consumer behavior and how they can create more desired results.
  • Protect the data that the company gathers.

The Path Towards Becoming a Chief Data Officer

While the position is relatively new, it has rapidly become sensitive, requiring a variable mix of hard and soft skills to succeed. This article covers just what you need if the office of a Chief Data Officer is your destination.



While it is not a requirement to get an IT Related degree, most firms require a Ph.D. in a data-related field like management information systems, statistics, data science, and computer science.

According to research by Gartner, only 9 percent of CDOs had a prior position in a traditional IT department. You don’t necessarily need an IT degree, but you need adequate knowledge of the data sciences. Some companies will accept equivalent experience in place of this education.


Because the Chief Data Officer is a part of a company’s executive team, you must have 5-10 years of experience in a senior management position, strong leadership and communication skills, project management skills, and effective interpersonal skills, to mention a few. 

Because this role sits at an intersection between IT and business, the CDO will need a broader range of skills than a regular executive. A clear understanding of interpreting statistics and communicating them in a business sense is essential to succeeding in this role.

A senior executive, the chief data officer, should motivate, inspire, and align the entire team behind a shared goal. You will not be working alone, and for your team to be effective, you need to have the capacity to motivate them to do their best.

Practical knowledge of data security is imperative for this role. In countries like the UK, a data protection officer is recommended for each organization. The Chief Data Officer can handle this role. It is the CDO’s job to know how to dispense relevant data to the people who need it in the organization.


The Chief Data Officer needs to have superior IT skills to succeed at this office. An appreciation of what technology can offer is critical to the results a CDO should aim for. Results like the implementation of technology improvements for the benefit of the company.

The chief mistake to avoid on your path to a Chief Data Officer role in the future is focusing solely on the technical side and not enough on the business and management end. Too much weight on the technical end will tilt the balance towards tools, and too little will have the CDO unable to pass his vision across.

A high level of vision is required to carry out the functions required of this office. The CDOs’ role is to ask the right questions and determine the data and strategies needed to answer those questions. A high level of understanding of both data strategy and the particular business of the organization is required.


If you’re looking to be a Chief Data Officer, you’re looking to be in a top management position and an information-analyzing role. You will find that it is essential to have not less than ten years of experience as a senior data science professional combined with the knowledge of leading a team.


A clear path to the office of the Chief Data officer of an organization could start with a data analyst, data scientist, data engineer, or data warehouse engineer. A promotion would lead to a senior data analyst, senior warehouse engineer, senior data scientist, or senior data engineer. 

Your next step would be head of analytics or head of data sciences, after which you get promoted to director of analytics or director of data science.  It is from one of these offices that you may be appointed a chief data officer. Some companies prefer to hire an executive from another field; however, for the role of the Chief Data Officer, experience counts even if you are looking to change organizations.


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