From Network Admin to CIO

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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 management positions.

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 CIO.

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 administrator.

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 network.

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 skills.

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 head.

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 professionals.

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 weaknesses.

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.

via @lolsnaps

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.

Get help.

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.

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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?

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