Sidebar: Smart Career Advice

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The best IT leaders are business people first and technologists second. So say virtually all of this year's Premier 100 IT Leaders. Here, 13 honorees offer their best advice for launching and managing a successful career in IT.

  • Lynne Ellyn, senior vice president and CIO, DTE Energy, Detroit

    Get a diverse education. Make the word and a big part of your life. Be clever at technology and business. Be good with people and be decisive. Be an attentive listener and a compelling speaker. Blend the talents and interests that others view as a source of conflict. Have a strong inclination to act.
  • Lancelot Michael Braunstein, executive director, Morgan Stanley, New York

    Focus on the business. In most cases, IT is an enabler. The most successful IT professionals I have known are those who can integrate business savvy with technology experience.
  • Tom M. Stangroom, vice president and CIO, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, Arlington, Va.

    Develop strong technical skills combined with excellent communication skills, a strong customer-service orientation and a willingness to help others. Also, teamwork is essential, as IT is a very collaborative work environment. Be able to relate to others, empathize and listen.
  • John A. Lever, director, information architecture governance, Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command, Stennis Space Center, Miss.

    I would recommend a liberal arts education, with a strong subemphasis in mathematics/technology. Pure computer science or software engineering is too limiting for outward-focused IT management positions. Also, liberal arts provides the foundation for critical thinking, communication skills and a cultural reference model to base thoughts and actions upon.
  • Barbara J. Kunkel, CIO and IT director, Nixon Peabody LLP, Rochester, N.Y.

    To succeed in a career in IT, training in the soft skills is just as important as the "techie" know-how. Think globally, take a foreign language, and entertain the idea of working abroad for a few years. International work experience will provide you with a broader perspective on business issues.
  • Carol Suchit-Hudson, program manager for quality assurance and security, Johnson & Johnson Health Care Systems Inc., Piscataway, N.J.

    You need to manage your own career. Consider yourself as a consultant would and ensure that your skills are always current and in demand. Focus on a hybrid degree, such as a technical degree or MIS degree with an MBA. Make sure you have a good working knowledge of the business and business processes. It's also important to get project management experience and to develop your soft skills, such as negotiating and conflict resolution. Lastly, don't be afraid to reinvent yourself.
  • William K. McQuiston, CIO, Truman Medical Centers Inc., Kansas City, Mo.

    Try to spend time as a student or intern shadowing a person working in the area of IT that interests you. Get a four-year degree in computer science, a master's degree in business administration and experience in any operating department that uses technology supplied by IT. In addition to technical training, soft skills and business skills are important, especially written and oral communication, analytical thinking, systemic thinking, a good work ethic and a sense of humor.
  • Thomas W. McCurley, vice president of IS, Hardware and Home Improvement Group, Black & Decker Corp., Lake Forest, Calif.

    For aspiring CIOs, I would recommend that you work for a couple years after college, but get moving on an MBA quickly, particularly if your undergraduate degree is in engineering or computer science. The business basics will be critical to your future success. I would also move quickly because it's so hard to get that MBA degree once the family starts to grow and time becomes more precious.

    Professionally, I would recommend finding an overall IT leadership role at a small division or company rather than working your way up the ranks in a large department. Having experience managing the entire technology portfolio will be critical as you look to grow into larger businesses and ultimately a CIO job.
  • Dale N. Frantz, CIO, Auto Warehousing Co., Tacoma, Wash.

    Experience with technology is the best teacher in today's world. I encourage all young people who contact me regarding employment to not only get their schooling, but to also get hands-on experience in making things work. Volunteer at a school or a church, or an organization like the YMCA. Put your training into practice by getting your hands dirty writing code, developing a database, building a network -- in other words, make something work. Anyone can learn the head knowledge, but those with a passion for technology are the ones who will get the jobs in today's IT world.
  • Ron Crain, technology director, Kansas City International Airport, Missouri

    Seek out intellectual diversity. Too many IT practitioners suffer from mental inbreeding as a result of interacting only with people like themselves. Become really good at something outside of IT. Take calculated risks.
  • Jerry Bartlett, vice president of application development and quality assurance, Ameritrade Holding Corp., Columbia, Md.

    Focus on more than just the technology. You must understand business in general and that technology organizations are about helping businesses create value for their clients and shareholders. Consider a minor in business.
  • John G. Campbell, senior vice president and CIO, American Modern Insurance Group, Amelia, Ohio

    Get a broad-based education if you want to eventually move into management. Get exposure to as many ideas as possible. Don't forget to study human behavior. Communication is more critical than you will ever know.
  • Nancy W. Mulholland, deputy executive director and CIO, New York State Workers' Compensation Board, Albany

    Excellent writing skills, verbal communication skills, and adaptability and flexibility are the most important skills to cultivate -- because you can bet the technology will just keep changing!
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Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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