How to Become a Vice President of Engineering

How to Become a Vice President of Engineering
Well-qualified, highly experienced engineers who seek career advancement, additional responsibility, and professional challenges often target the VP role as a mid- to late-career objective. Image from Unsplash
Elen Turner profile
Elen Turner March 17, 2020

Engineers solve problems. As vice president of engineering, you'll do that, but the problems will mostly be high-level personnel, logistics, and budgetary challenges. You won't do as much engineering as you once did, but you will earn a hefty paycheck.

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Vice president (VP) of engineering is an advanced engineering job within a company or organization. It’s sometimes called chief technology officer (CTO), although some organizations have both a CTO and a VP of engineering, with the VP typically reporting to the CTO.

Well-qualified, highly experienced engineers who seek career advancement, additional responsibility, and professional challenges often target the VP role as a mid- to late-career objective. VP of engineering is not a job that you jump into fresh out of college but is a worthwhile long-term goal for any beginning engineer.

This article explains how to become a vice president of engineering by addressing the following topics:

  • Duties and responsibilities of a vice president of engineering
  • Requirements to become a vice president of engineering
  • Education needed to become a vice president of engineering
  • Resources for becoming a vice president of engineering

Duties and responsibilities of a vice president of engineering

The specific duties and responsibilities of a VP of engineering depend on the type of employer. Engineering is a broad discipline, defined by Lexico as “the branch of science and technology concerned with the design, building, and use of engines, machines, and structures.” There are many areas of specialization within the field of engineering. Engineers can focus exclusively on aircraft, roads and bridges, energy sources, chemicals, software engineering, or one of many other industries and enterprises.

Regardless of the employer, a VP of engineering is part of the management team. They work with the president of engineering, the executive vice president, product managers, and other management staff to plan, implement, and oversee all aspects of engineering operations, procedures, goals, and strategy within a company. They ensure that whatever is produced is appropriately designed and tested and that the products reflect the goals and values of the organization.

The daily duties of a VP of engineering vary. Expect to spend plenty of time in meetings, where you’ll strategize and liaise with other members of staff. You’ll also conduct site visits to inspect equipment, machines, and processes; the specifics of these visits will vary substantially depending on your field of specialization. For some VPs of engineering, a site visit will involve working with computers, while others might spend the day watching a bridge being built.

If you particularly enjoy the hands-on aspects of engineering, becoming a VP of engineering might require some adjustment. Your days will be given over to paperwork and meetings; there won’t be much time to roll up your sleeves and solve practical engineering problems. On the other hand, the job will allow you to put advanced skills and knowledge to high-level use and to steer the direction of your organization.

Clearly, there’s a lot of responsibility involved in being a VP in engineering. Fortunately, it’s not a job you’ll get without a lot of experience, and no one is going to offer it to you if they think you’ll be overmatched in the position. By the time you qualify for this role, you and your peers will know whether it’s a good fit for you and for your employer.

A keyword in the very name of the job, however, should make it clear that there’s more room to grow after becoming a VP of engineering: the word vice. A VP is a vice president, not a president, so there are still steps on the ladder to climb if you’re ambitious and talented. After working as a VP of engineering for a few years, you may be able to work your way up to senior vice president, president, chief technology officer (depending on the hierarchy of your company), chief information security officer, or chief executive officer.


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Requirements to become a vice president of engineering

To be a successful VP of engineering, you must first be a successful engineer. Engineering is a vast field with many sub-specializations. According to Australia’s University of New South Wales, all engineers share the following skills and traits:

  • Problem-solving
  • Aptitude for, and enjoyment of, fixing things
  • Ability to communicate clearly
  • Ability to see the big picture

Problem-solving skills are essential for all engineers; it’s what engineers do, working through complex problems and finding the best solutions. Problem-solving skills are even more necessary for VPs of engineering. Not only do they need to solve technical engineering problems, but they also must be able to see the bigger picture for the organization. The issues are more complicated at the VP level because they address not only technical challenges but also human-resources and financial challenges.

A VP of engineering should also have strong financial and accounting skills and experience. Working with budgets and costs is a critical part of the job. As a VP, you’ll have to weigh in on everything from human resource costs to the cost of product development and testing. Excellent leadership and communication skills (verbal and written) are also necessary.

Education needed to become a vice president of engineering

You will need at least a Bachelor of Science (BS) in engineering to become a VP of engineering. This four-year degree usually begins with a broad survey of engineering, after which you specialize in a particular field. Engineering specializations include:

  • Biomedical engineering
  • Chemical engineering
  • Civil and environmental engineering
  • Computer and software engineering
  • Electrical and telecommunications engineering
  • Mechanical and manufacturing engineering
  • Mining engineering
  • Petroleum engineering
  • Photovoltaic and renewable energy engineering

Master of Business Administration (MBA) or Master of Engineering Management degrees can also boost your resume. Either should help you win a posting as an engineering manager, a job many engineering VPs hold on their way up through the ranks. A graduate degree isn’t strictly necessary to hold either position, but it certainly helps considerably. You’ll need some pretty impressive credentials elsewhere to make up for your lack of advanced education.

How long does it take to become a VP of engineering? The BS in Engineering degree takes four years of full-time study, and the MBA or other master’s degree takes another one or two years (potentially more if you study part-time). However, these educational requirements aren’t all that you need to fulfill before becoming a VP of engineering. This a mid-career engineering job; you’ll be expected to have a minimum of five years’ experience (preferably more) as a lower-level engineer. Add the educational requirements onto that, and you’re looking at around 10 to 12 years before you can seriously think about getting a job as a VP of engineering. This isn’t said to dissuade you or to sound negative, however. Think of becoming a VP of engineering as a long-term career goal to strive towards after you finish college.

There are many factors you should consider when choosing a college for your BS in engineering, including whether you can get in-state tuition or other scholarships, and whether you want to live away from or close to home. US News & World Report ranks these programs highly:

Resources for becoming a vice president of engineering

According to PayScale, the average salary of a VP of engineering is almost $170,000 per year. That’s the average; on the lower end of the scale, VPs of engineering make $110,000 per year, and on the higher end, more than $270,000 per year. Indisputably, this is a high-paying job.

Student loans are obviously a significant consideration for undergraduates, so it’s good to know that a VP of engineering job can earn you some decent money. Plus, a vice president’s role isn’t even as high on the rung of engineering jobs as you can climb, so there’s potential to earn even more later on as you progress up the management chain (if that’s what you want).

Right now, however, you’re probably reading this as an undergraduate (or prospective undergraduate), and what you can earn as a VP of engineering is still pretty far off on the horizon. First things first: find out more about federal student aid to learn whether you’re eligible and how it may help you on your path to becoming an engineer.

Here are some further resources that you should take a look at if you’re interested in becoming a VP of engineering. They’ll help you understand the job better, and give you many things to think about, including whether this is a good career path for you:

Questions or feedback? Email

About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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