Ask a Premier 100 IT Leader:Jesus V. Arriaga

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Jesus V. Arriaga

Vice president and CIO,

Keystone Automotive Industries

Computerworld Premier 100 IT Leader, 2005

Arriaga is this month's guest Premier 100 IT Leader, answering readers' questions about landing the CIO job and learning Internet security skills. If you have a question you'd like to pose to one of our Premier 100 IT Leaders, send it to askaleader@computerworld.com and watch for this column each month.

I have a bachelor of science degree from West Point and a master of science degree from Johns Hopkins. I left the military after seven years. My past jobs have been as a Big Five consultant, network security engineer and software developer. My goal is to become a CIO, but I don't have anyone to advise me on my next move. Any suggestions? -- D.T.

The day I set my sights on the CIO position, I determined to put a plan in place toward that goal. What I can offer you are my experiences and what I did to prepare myself for the day that office became available to me.

I quickly learned that to be an effective CIO, I would need a balanced skill set in both technical- and management-related areas. I had the technical area covered because I knew I was strong in both infrastructure and software engineering. However, this does not diminish the fact that a solid technical background is needed to provide strategic direction. Management skills, both in people and business, are also essential to the role of the CIO. Understanding and learning management principles, and then applying them, begins to set you apart as a candidate for the CIO seat. As IT people, we can be pigeonholed into just being the "computer guy." I recommend taking management courses and reading books on management and leadership principles. You can learn a lot that way.

As you learn, see what you can do to get involved in management-related issues at the companies you work for. I sought out the opportunities to participate in meetings and discussions related to business areas outside of the technical arena. The beauty of IT is that we touch every area of an organization. Technology is nondiscriminatory. Departments and business unit owners need IT staff involved to assist with the planning and decision-making process. Most likely, your company's department manager, director or CIO is already involved at this level. Offer your services and become a participant in these meetings and take on additional duties that would allow you to demonstrate the skills you are learning. As you get involved, if there is something you don't understand, don't be afraid to ask questions. Participating at this level helped further solidify my knowledge and understanding of management principles. I also started to get a better understanding of what it takes to run a company.

Having one mentor, or more, who can help guide you through the executive management forest is also an important part of the building process. The person doesn't need to be a CIO. What is important is that the person is in an executive management role with proven experience that he can share; however, being at the CIO level is a definite plus. If you don't know anyone, I would suggest attending the various computer conferences that CIOs attend. Get out there and mingle. Don't be afraid to ask questions of the folks you meet on how they became a CIO. You might be surprised; many are open to sharing their experiences without reservation. One or more of the folks you meet may end up being open to mentoring you, even if it means just being available to correspond on a regular basis. It may take a bit of time to develop the relationship, but it's well worth the effort. That person can ultimately become a good source for career path guidance as you scale the ladder of success.

How can I steer my career into the area of Internet security (antivirus software, firewalls and so on)? What sort of qualifications will I need? I have been in IT support for five years. -- Z.S.

CIOs like myself are looking for people with a definite skill set in security management. In today's world, this has become such a focus, there are many sources you can lean on to acquire more skills. I strongly recommend establishing an education plan along this line to build your knowledge. It can be in the form of books or formal education on the subject. Obtain the correct certifications. I would recommend obtaining your certification as a Cisco engineer, because you will need that knowledge of network infrastructure. You also need to be skilled in a Windows server environment. Microsoft has various certifications that you can look into. Having Unix under your belt would also be advantageous, if not essential.

As your knowledge and skill set increase, you may want to approach the manager responsible for that area and let him know about your desire to move into a security role. Explain your proactive education plan and let him know what you have learned. Ask for the opportunity to utilize your skills in special projects as an initial first step. You need to be prepared for some of this to be entry-level work; however, it will ultimately help you to solidify what you have learned and to learn things that books and classes may never teach you. Learning on the job is valuable experience.

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