For ambitious technology professionals, achieving a promotion to CIO represents the ultimate career goal. Sure, in start-up companies, a technically inclined cofounder might assume the title of CIO. But what if you\u2019re working your way up the ranks of a Fortune 500 company? In that context, you need to develop the skills \u2013 and the mindset \u2013 required to reach that role.\nThere are different paths to the CIO role\nThe path to the CIO office varies depending on the organization and the individual. For instance, the unexpected departure of the current CIO can create an opportunity.\n \nMicrosoft CIO Jim DuBois.\n\n\u201cOne day, I received a call from COO asking me to visit. I didn\u2019t know what it was about until I arrived in the meeting,\u201d says Microsoft CIO Jim DuBois. It turns out that Microsoft\u2019s previous CIO had resigned for family reasons. As a result, DuBois was asked to assume the role of interim CIO. Over time, DuBois\u2019 focus and results led the company to appoint him as full CIO. \u201cDespite the interim CIO title, I approached my work and led as a full CIO. That approach made a positive difference \u2013 it was one of the reasons I was appointed full CIO,\u201d DuBois says.\n \nNancy Davis,\u00a0vice president and CIO of United Technologies.\n\nIn other companies, there may be multiple CIO roles at different levels of the organization. Nancy Davis, vice president and CIO of United Technologies, previously served as the CIO of Pratt & Whitney (2003-2009), a business unit of United Technologies that produces turbine engines. Her success in that role made her a candidate for a higher-level CIO role when the opportunity became available. Delivering results as the CIO of a smaller unit gives you the opportunity to develop executive skills further and build relationships with other technology leaders.\n \nRadhika Venkatraman, senior vice president and CIO at Verizon.\n\nRadhika Venkatraman, senior vice president and CIO at Verizon, built her career by serving in various assignments across the company. \u201cI began as a member of the technical staff, but was quickly promoted to director of a functional team in IT. From there I rotated through numerous roles and took positions of increasing responsibility,\u201d Venkatraman says. A key turning point in Venkatraman`s career came when she was appointed as the Verizon Lean Six Sigma Lead for the Verizon Enterprise Solutions IT group. That opportunity gave her the opportunity to learn new skills and drive change throughout the organization.\n[Related: 5 conversations CIOs must have with their C-suite peers]\nMany professionals desire a simple career roadmap that will explain each and every step. While it might be possible to develop that kind of a flowchart for some roles, such as making the move from a developer to a manager, DuBois and Davis\u2019s experience shows there are several routes to the CIO\u2019s chair. In fact, none of the CIOs interviewed for this article took a linear path up the proverbial corporate ladder.\nDeveloping the CIO mindset\nTwenty years ago, technology professionals and leaders often had a reactive perspective on their work. They would build technology based on requests from customers and business units. Complaints about limited resources and unreasonable expectations from business partners reigned supreme. That attitude is no longer relevant, especially when it comes to aspiring CIOs and technology executives.\n \nFormer AT&T CIO Thaddeus Arroyo.\n\n\u201cWhen I started as a CIO, I thought of the role as focused on infrastructure,\u201d says Thaddeus Arroyo who served as CIO of AT&T for 2007-2014. \u201cOver time, my view of the CIO role has changed. It is now much more important to bring ideas and innovation to the table,\u201d Arroyo says. Maintaining IT infrastructure remains important. Yet, it is no longer enough to ensure success. Making strategic contributions to products and customers has become the way to stand out as a CIO.\n\u201cIn the early 2000s, I played a key role in implementing a roll-over feature at Cingular,\u201d says Arroyo. A roll-over feature allows a cellular customer to take unused minutes and data from a given month and carry it to the next month. \u201cThis was a great project to improve customer service and it involved IT, marketing and the product group,\u201d says Arroyo. Leading an effort to significantly improve a product or service used by the company\u2019s customer is an excellent way for the CIO to make a strategic contribution.\nThe value of a growth environment\nClimbing the corporate ladder is a challenging task. Several of the CIOs interviewed mentioned the importance of supportive managers and corporate culture in growing their skills. \u201cI came into the organization in a technical role. Over time, I was encouraged to take on additional responsibilities,\u201d says United Technologies\u2019 Davis. \u201cIt\u2019s easy to become comfortable in a role that you know how to do well \u2013 moving to new roles is a key way to continue your growth.\u201d\n\nKey competences for CIO success\nAchieving success as a CIO requires excellence in several skills. In the interviews for this story, these five trends emerged as themes:\n\nBroad knowledge of the business. Nancy Davis, CIO at United Technologies, had the expertise of working at several business units prior to her appointment as CIO. Becoming an executive at a large organization requires a breadth of experience. After all, if you are unable to understand the products and problems of the various lines of business, how can you enable their success?\nStay curious about the organization. \u201cNurturing your curiosity about the organization is a key skill for CIOs,\u201d according to Thaddeus Arroyo, former CIO of AT&T. You can show your curiosity by visiting other parts of the company, working on cross-company projects and learning about new projects.\nInformation security. Prior to his appointment as Microsoft\u2019s CIO, Jim DuBois served as CISO. That experience and knowledge will become more important as more business activities are completed through the Internet and other digital platforms.\nPortfolio perspective. As a CIO, you\u2019re entrusted with managing a significant share of the company\u2019s resources and staff. \u201cBy adopting Azure [Microsoft\u2019s cloud service], we have freed up resources that can be used elsewhere in the company,\u201d says DuBois.\u201d It\u2019s easy to look at your unit\u2019s resources as a personal empire. DuBois\u2019s comment shows the value of freeing up resources for the company as a whole.\nPatience, and the long game. Reaching the CIO level takes years of effort and patience. The executives interviewed for this piece had served their organizations for 10, 15 or 20 years before being appointed to an executive role. If you\u2019re serious about pursuing an executive appointment at a large organization, be prepared to work for the long term. You can get started today by building your business acumen and learning more about your organization.\n\n\n[Related: Why passion is a requirement for today's CIO]\nDavis also shared that United Technologies is committed to career development. As an executive, she has worked with people in her organization to help them advance and move to new opportunities. As you seek to grow your career, give some thought to your organization\u2019s growth culture. If career development conversations lead nowhere and you see little evidence of promotions elsewhere at the firm, you may need to consider leaving the organization to continue your growth.\nDeveloping business acumen\n\u201cOver my career, I served in a variety of business units at United Technologies,\u201d says Davis. Those different experiences included working closely with customers. Successful interaction with customers is a key skill for aspiring CIOs to develop. You may begin your career as a software developer or engineer. Those technical skills and experience are highly valuable, yet they are not enough for an aspiring executive. Developing deep business insight is vital in order to succeed as a technology executive.\n\u201cI believe one of my greatest strengths is the ability to convert a business problem into a technology opportunity,\u201d says Venkatraman, who leads a 2,000-person IT organization at Verizon. Venkatraman\u2019s comment shows the importance of perspective in business acumen: Instead of being overwhelmed by problems, look for a way to build or apply technology to solve a customer\u2019s problem.\nThe special CIO role in technology companies\nLeading the IT function in a technology company represents a special challenge and opportunity. \u201cI see my unit as a customer advocate and we act as an enterprise customer,\u201d says DuBois. In his official bio, DuBois explains his approach in the following terms: \u201c[We] help [to] ensure that Microsoft is the \u201cfirst and best customer\u201d of its own products.\u201d Serving as a customer and early user of a company\u2019s products is an excellent way for a CIO to add value in a technology company.\nIf your company builds technology products, you have an exceptional opportunity to contribute as a CIO. Specifically, you can offer to be an early customer of the technology and provide feedback to the product group. In addition, you can adopt your organization\u2019s technology and serve as an enthusiastic customer. Both approaches show commitment to the organization and help the IT organization maintain a focus on the end customer.