by Martin Veitch

How do you become a CIO? Let us count the ways…

Jun 16, 20092 mins

What is the best training for becoming a CIO? I only ask because recent meetings with CIOs has shown just how wide the career path to the top job in IT has become.

Of course, many CIOs take the old road, starting out in junior IT positions (programmer, analyst), rising through the ranks (project manager), and taking on managerial responsibility (IT manager) before becoming the ultimate head of information strategy (CIO or IT director).

Some have been on a rotational system where they gain experience of other functions (sales, finance, marketing, procurement, logistics etc). Those that have been on this merry-go-round tend to have been employed for long stints at blue-chips (BT, Unliever, Procter & Gamble, Intel are examples) that pride themselves on lifelong learning programmes for management-class employees. However, although it’s often argued that CIOs have the best view across business departments, the numbers that have been on such a tour of duty are relatively few, excepting those who have worked in the US where it is far closer to the norm.

Others have been drafted in from other functions, often finance. It’s interesting that very few of these tend to make themselves available for interview with the likes of CIO magazine, and it might well confirm my prejudice that this type of parachuting operation only occurs when IT is seen as problematic cost centre or there is a requirement for stark change management.

A few — I’ve met two in the last fortnight — have spent most of their careers on the supply side. These have the advantage of knowing the wiles of hardware/software vendors and services suppliers, and should be versed in the application of technology to solve business problems, having met many examples from the other side of the fence.

What about education? Most CIOs have a computing-related degree or degree related to their choice of vertical and many others back it up with an MBA or perhaps a specialist course such as Gartner’s CIO Academy qualification. Many devour business books but many others do not. Some can tell you the fortunes of every company in their sector but a lot cannot.

So what does this tell us about the path to becoming a CIO? Not a lot except for the unsatisfactory conclusion that there is precious little disagreement as to what makes the CIO.