The secrets behind making it to the very top in a career in technology include elements of luck, but also more definitive skills incuding the ability to set and communicate strategic direction, and ensure its delivery.
A group of the UK’s top CIOs taken from Computing‘s IT Leaders 100 list for 2017 have revealed what brought them to top of their profession.
In this instance, we asked each CIO for the secrets behind their success.
Tom Clark, CIO, Leeds Building Society
A lot of this has to do with being in the right place at the right time – that is having the opportunity to take path A or path B. For me being part of an extremely large IT function in a global bank for years helped drive those opportunities. Then it’s about making the right choices from those open to you.
I always feel it’s important not just to think of the next role as something you would like to do, but to think of it in terms of what it would bring you from a skills and experience perspective – and how it leads to the role after next. I always advise people that this is about understanding what you want (which in my case was CIO), critically assess your skills and capabilities, and then actively seek and choose those options that help you fill the gaps.
I felt it important not to go into niche areas as these limit your choices – but to choose roles that give a breadth rather than a depth of experience. I chose to take risks in some role choices – if the next role is not challenging, stretching and somewhat uncomfortable then you probably haven’t made a big enough step change to enable you to learn and grow fast enough.
I also changed role quite often which at one stage was every 18 months, and covered areas such as software development, quality assurance, operations management and service management – this was deliberate, in order to cover the breadth of the CIO role.
Staying in role too long limits your experience as each new role gives you exposure to new businesses, political challenges, project challenges and service issues – these are all opportunities to learn from, which diminish over the time spent in a role.
Mark Ridley, Group Technology Officer at Blenheim Chalcot Accelerate
Apart from my good looks and natural charm? My secret is luck, and a willingness to take advantage of it.
I never intended to work in technology. I’ve always loved taking things apart, and fixing them. Going to university just as the web was developing (in the mid-nineties) gave me an opportunity to learn something where I could combine both design and craftsmanship. I fell in love with the web, and the power of reaching so many people. It was pure luck that meant that I found a job in web development, primarily because no-one else knew what they were doing at the time.
From that point, I’ve never been the best technologist in the room. I was always surrounded by people smarter and more capable than I was. But that same passion for taking things apart and fixing them remained. I’m endlessly curious, and I’m willing to break things to see how they work. I was lucky enough to never break anything so badly that I couldn’t fix it.
Luck also meant that I found a business willing to invest in me, and my job at Reed gave me access to a supportive environment, and the mentorship of both James and Alec Reed, as well as numerous other execs in the group. I continued not breaking things for long enough to develop a lot of trust within the group, and develop an amazing team around me who could excel at their jobs.
Luck, however, is just opportunities that you take advantage of. By being open to the possibilities of every situation, being positive about challenges, and constantly driving forward, that’s all I really mean by luck. You create your own with your resilience and creativity, and that comes in part from your own self-belief, and in part from the support of people around you.[Turn to page 2]
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