Special Report: Premier 100 IT Leaders 2014

Scot Finnie: Career doors are opening wide everywhere for IT pros

Special Report

Premier 100 IT Leaders 2014

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Embrace change. That seems to be the motto of many of this year's Premier 100 honorees. The frozen barriers that once kept IT professionals within the confines of the data center are thawing. For IT workers at many organizations, there's no longer a linear career path to a senior position. The trick is to not shy away from novel experiences, even if you lack demonstrated ability in a new role. Immerse yourself and get up to speed.

A common thread for the 100 men and women who will be honored at the Computerworld Premier 100 IT Leadership Conference in Tucson next week is that they've jumped from department to department to department -- gathering business acumen at each stop.

"Every few years, most of these IT and business standouts have taken on new and often radically different challenges on their paths to leadership roles," writes Julia King in our lead story, "The 2014 Premier 100 IT Leaders: Reinventing themselves many times over."

Because technology touches so many aspects of most organizations, an IT background can be an advantage, a steppingstone to other areas of your business. To advance, look at change as an opportunity to grow. Sure, change means stepping out of your comfort zone, but you'll likely be glad you altered your career mindset.

Once you become known as an able business chameleon, you'll have a good shot at being offered new opportunities. What's more, there's no better training to be a CIO -- if that's even your goal -- than to work in many areas of business.

Understanding the business goals of different branches of an organization is the most important nontechnical skill a senior IT leader can master.

If you follow this kind of career path, look for experienced mentors to help you along the way. Many of this year's Premier 100 honorees talk about leaning on experts around them. Bring your knowledge of process and technology with you, but learn from those already on the ground.

To succeed on this career path, you also must have wins along the way. Don't tilt at windmills. Carve out a goal that you can attain, and if you get 80% to 90% of the way there, call it success.

More than anything else, this kind of career is about learning. Some of us find it thrilling to climb a steep learning curve. Ten years ago, being a good IT pro often meant pursuing ongoing training and being able to keep up with the rapid pace of technological advancement (and it's not like that's going away).

If you're someone who likes that fast pace, you may be able to take on other kinds of challenges more easily than you think.

The traditional IT roles are changing. You know the reasons as well as I do: trends like BYOD and 24/7 employee productivity, cloud computing and virtualization, the pervasive use of technology in business, and the deep recession, which placed an even greater emphasis on a revenue-based return on investment. For the past several years, Computerworld has brought you information about intrepid IT people who have figured out how to generate revenue, about business units setting up shadow IT operations and about the transformation of the CIO role.

This is something a little different: Today's emerging IT leaders are taking advantage of these trends by parachuting their technology skills into business settings, solving problems and scoring wins. Some of your colleagues are having great success with this strategy. Why not you, too?

Next: See the full list of 2014 honorees

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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