We all know the feeling. You are busy taking care of the
network, but there is a clueless employee who needs help changing his or
her passwords. Day in and day out, you do nothing but to attend to the
network problems and the various emergencies from the users.
But you tell yourself, someday soon, you would be calling
the shots and there would be others who will do these things for you.
Someday, you would be the CIO, the Chief Information Officer, a
superstar in the company.
So how do you get there?
Temper your expectations: Not everyone can be CIO.
Everyone dreams of being the boss! The pay, the perks and the power
is enough motivation for people to want to become the top honcho. But
not everyone is cut out to be a CIO.
Being a CIO, you would be part of senior management. You would
become the bridge between the financial and operation side of the
business and the technology side. As such, it is not enough for you to
become good at programming languages, troubleshooting systems, knowing
software and everything IT related. You also have to possess undeniably
good interpersonal skills, a lot of business acumen and knowledge about
the financial side of the business.
You can be a programming whiz, or a technologist or technology
specialist, but unless you can build rapport with people at all levels
of the organization and you fully understand how the business is
operated, then you are not qualified at being CIO.
The CIO vs. the IT Director: What’s the difference?
Also, a lot of people tend to confuse a CIO with an IT director.
Some people use these interchangeably because both are considered to be
the top man when it comes to IT departments, as well as holding senior
Technically, however, an IT director oversees the IT department and
interacts more with the tech staff. The CIO, on the other hand, focuses
more on the business.
Your career path: from Network Administrator to CIO
There is no secret or magic formula to becoming CIO. In fact, you’re
expected to be a risk taker and a go-getter. You cannot be a CIO if
you just follow the natural career path of an IT-related job. If you
just wait to be promoted from, say a junior network admin to a senior
network admin to a network admin head and so on, you will never become a
Because of the disparity and diversity of skills you need to have to
become a successful CIO, it would do you well to be proactive. You
should pursue jobs that would give you the necessary skills, knowledge
and know-how to become a CIO.
For the first years of your career, consider an entry-level
IT-related job such as a programmer or, better yet, as a network
Being a network administrator is a great springboard to a CIO seat. You will get to learn all the tech stuff you need to know.
As a network administrator, you will be working with networks, as
well as the peripherals, equipment, hardware and software that make up a
You will also touch on security and even network management.
This experience will give you the opportunity to learn the ropes and to stock up on your technical know-how.
Another area that you should be looking at during this stage is service
delivery.However, by the time you enter your third job, you should be
switching to a business-related and customer facing role. However, be
sure that this is still IT related. By the 4th or 5th year of your
career, you should aim to be in a management position, wherein you are
managing small teams. You should be able to handle projects
efficiently, and as such, you should be developing project management
In short, from the technology focused network administrator job, you
should ease into a more customer facing or management oriented job, such
as being the team lead for business solutions or a software development
After this, you should be able to get a job that would allow you to
interact, not only with customers, but also with suppliers and other
It would help you network with other people who are into IT and who
are into running businesses. From these people, you should be able to
find a mentor who could help hone your strengths and correct your
Good leadership skills are the key!
Become a great leader from day one. You might be a network
administrator now, but it does not mean that you cannot be a leader.
Start developing the skills and cultivate the personality of a great
leader early on.
Remember how we differentiated being an IT director and the CIO? Let’s add another difference: a CIO is an IT director that could lead effectively.
Leadership is not simple management. You should have a set of values
that you live by. These are principles that could guide you in making
tough decisions and help you accept the consequences. This way, you
develop credibility and you get to build a strong track record as well.
Becoming a good leader is as important as getting into the right job.
Focus: You are more than a technologist. You are a businessperson. You are an entrepreneur.
You have to realize early on that CIOs are not glorified IT
department heads with bigger salaries. Instead, you should keep in mind
that CIOs help run the business.
As such, you will have to shift from code to numbers. From programs
to money. The investors, board of directors, and your CEO will not be
excited about upgrading to a higher version of the current software you
are using. They will probably yawn incessantly when you mention network
upgrades. But explain it in such a way that they see the value of
these actions in dollars, then you are well on your way. So instead of
boring them with the specifications of your new computer, why not tell
them how efficient it could be and how it could cut down processing time
and in turn increase sales.
Somewhere along the way, take stock of your experiences and skills objectively. Then get help where you need it.
For example, if you feel that you are not ready for the boardroom, then get an MBA or other business courses.
If you feel the need to update your technical skills, then consider getting a relevant IT certification.
* * *
Remember, to become a successful CIO, you would need to plan for it.
Every step from being just a network administrator to becoming the top
honcho should be carefully laid out. You should be deliberately
building technical, business, and management skills along the way. Good
luck and get planning.
Any tips from those who’ve made it or are on the path?