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Career Hacker: Boarding the CIO train

April 03, 2014

Enjoy taking charge? Well, you might want to consider the CIO track.

But first, think hard before embarking the train to chief information officer. Some IT workers don’t dream of the management track—and for good reason. Many just don’t care for the administrative headaches that come with managing budgets, staff and politics. But if you communicate well with technical and nontechnical people alike and enjoy thinking strategically, you might excel in the director or CIO role. Carefully consider this path before committing to it; handing off daily work means your technical skills may become outdated, making management a one-way journey.

There’s a big shift in the IT world that makes management a good career choice in the long term. “As-a-service” IT models, advances in artificial intelligence and global outsourcing are making technical skills less critical. At the same time, enterprises increasingly perceive IT as mission-critical, rather than a support function. Because of these shifts, many research analysts believe IT will shift from task-based to strategic work. In-house IT staff will spend less time on technical functions and more time strategizing with company leaders, selecting and overseeing vendors, and negotiating contracts. In other words, managerial duties.

Still interested in becoming CIO? Before you can become the leader, you must demonstrate leadership. That means acting with the utmost professionalism, becoming a resource for colleagues and juniors, and showing excellent project management capabilities. 

A good way to cultivate a reputation for leadership is to be consistently fair and generous in your dealings with other employees. Give credit where it's due, don't shy away from hard work, and never gossip or engage in office drama. 

Thinking like a manager can help get you there—this means seeing things from the company's point of view, not just yours. Sure, you'd like that new high-end software package, but will the tech investment really deliver good value against the company's investment? Or maybe you don't love the new benefits package, but you understand that the company is meeting employees halfway in splitting rising healthcare costs. Simply complaining with your coworkers doesn't demonstrate the big-picture mentality and professionalism leaders need.

Making allies and cultivating champions across other departments is also a good idea. IT leaders support HR, Marketing and other groups, and those people want to work with someone eager to find solutions that meet their needs. Be that person. Most CIOs work more with company leaders than with IT staff, so demonstrating your ability to understand others' needs, interpret technical jargon for lay people and get along with everyone will enhance your reputation as an up-and-coming leader.

Finally, don't be afraid to jump the track. Most CIOs did not advance by hanging around too long in one company or role waiting to be noticed for their hard work and intelligence. Take chances! Ask for high-profile projects, shop around for better job opportunities and simply let it be known you're working to become leader someday. 

Interested in reading more of our Career Hacker series? Stay tuned for a new post every Tuesday, or check out recent posts, Advancing your IT careerStarting out in IT and Changing your IT career path.

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