John Edwards
Contributing writer

7 ways to breathe new life into your IT leadership career

Jan 12, 2022
CareersIT Leadership

Bored? Burned out? Here’s how to reignite your professional life and get your career back on track.

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Credit: Getty Images

If there’s one issue IT leaders rarely discuss with colleagues, friends, or family it’s boredom. Boredom victims generally suffer in silence as a career that was once captivating and invigorating has, over the years, settled into a seemingly endless series of dull routines.

Boredom is insidious and, if left unaddressed, can be a career killer. “It can not only hurt your chances of getting a promotion, but also ruin the dynamic in your team or your interpersonal relationships at work,” says Jean-François Maes, an instructor with training and skills-certification provider SANS Institute. “Finally, if you bring your bad mood home with you from work, it can also hurt the people closest to you after your hours.”

Boredom seldom goes away on its own. Fortunately, the best remedy is simple: a healthy dose of excitement. To kick your career back into action, consider the following approaches to restoring interest and motivation.

1. Consider a role change

IT is forever evolving, offering an endless series of fresh skills and challenges. “If you’re not excited about the opportunities and tasks your job offers, perhaps first look at different areas within the industry before leaving it altogether,” advises Rahul Mahna, managing director of managed security services at business services firm EisnerAmper Digital. A CIO at a medical services provider, for instance, works in a totally different environment than a counterpart at a casino or airline.

Another possibility is making a lateral move, either with your current enterprise or a competitor. Skills developed in one IT area can often be transferred to another with little effort or loss of income or reputation. If being a CIO is no longer fulfilling, consider switching to another, yet related, management position, such as a CDO, CISO, CTO, or other senior IT-related leadership position. “It’s very beneficial to one’s career to rotate positions every few years,” Mahna suggests.

2. Join a faculty

Many senior IT leaders reinvigorate their careers, burnish their reputations, and earn extra income by becoming a part-time college or university adjunct professor. To get started, Chris Kowalsky, a technical advisor in the CIO program at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy, suggests contacting adjunct IT faculty members at relevant institutions for advice. Next, audit a few courses to observe teaching skills. Follow up by volunteering to guest lecture at a local school.

While becoming an adjunct professor can be prestigious and remunerative, it also requires plenty of hard work, warns Alan Brill, senior managing director of the cyber risk practice at Kroll, a governance and risk services firm. Depending on the school, and whether the course is in-classroom or online, an adjunct professor’s commitment can run anywhere from seven to 15 weeks, he observes. During a typical week, you will be expected to deliver lectures (either in-person or via videoconferencing), grade tests, and set aside time to talk with students and answer their questions. The hours, Brill says, can quickly add up. Remember, too, that schedules tend to be fairly rigid and may interfere with your everyday business activities.

Meanwhile, don’t forget that before teaching a course, there must be a course. The course, which you will be expected to provide, must meet the institution’s academic standards. “You will need to generate a detailed syllabus for each week, you’ll have to develop a fairly detailed curriculum — exactly what you’re going to teach and when,” Brill says. Bottom line: Writing a course is complex and time consuming and you may not be even compensated for creating it.

3. Become a mentor

Mentoring gives IT leaders a fulfilling and productive way to step back from the daily grind while helping to create and retain highly skilled, enthusiastic staff members. “The hallmarks of a good mentor are accessibility, honesty, and maintaining the confidentiality of discussions,” Brill says.

Leon Roberge, CIO of Toshiba America Business Solutions and Toshiba Global Commerce Solutions, says he draws on his own knowledge and experience to build talented teams that are prepared to face any challenge. “I’ve worked in most of the roles my staff hold,” he notes. “Having that understanding of the specific skill set your staff requires allows you to properly mentor and groom individuals.”

Kowalsky believes in servant leadership, the concept that leaders should actively serve their teams. “Having the opportunity to assist others formally is a great way to give back,” he says.

4. Launch an outreach program

Volunteering can be a productive, satisfying way to achieve a balanced life. “Helping others tends to help yourself in unexpected ways,” Kowalsky says.

A simple way to lend a hand is to discuss industry trends with high school and vocational school students and instructors, Roberge says. “Most important, it just feels great to provide guidance that helps an individual or organization in ways small and large.”

Besides lifting spirits, an outreach program can also raise an enterprise’s public profile. “IT leaders tend to have many connections based on the third-party partners they work with,” Kowalsky says. Getting these enterprises involved in a public initiative can lead to a synergy that benefits all parties. “Lending a hand, volunteering, is a good way to achieve a balance in life,” he notes.

5. Network with colleagues

Joining a professional IT organization can expand a weary CIO’s personal network, exposing the IT leader to new concepts and perspectives. “Members bring different perspectives based on their technical expertise, industry, size of company, geography. and more,” says Matt Mead, SPR’s CTO.

Roberge has a preference for small, peer-type organizations. “Particularly ones featuring CIO roundtables and such where you can take topics while consulting with your peers on current trends and industry standards,” he explains.

Back in the days when he was a young Unix system administrator, Roberge’s favorite group was USENIX, an organization that, then and now, supports advanced computing research. “Meeting with my peers and participating in various tech talks were instrumental in getting me to where I am today,” he says.

Since time is scarce for most IT leaders, Mead advises observing before joining. “Before you jump in with both feet and commit to joining a professional organization, it’s always best to attend some meetings and to understand their mission and commitment before fully immersing yourself as a member or board member.”

6. Launch a citizen developer initiative

Participating in the citizen development movement, an initiative that encourages non-professional developers to create business applications using no-code/low-code platforms can help a tired IT leader get back into the thick of software design.

“With today’s unyielding demands on IT departments, citizen development provides a new and unique career path within IT to create complex, systemized workflow processes,” explains Sam Sibley, global head of Citizen Developer at the Project Management Institute (PMI), not-for-profit professional project management organization.

As individuals familiar with programming technology, IT professionals can lead the charge for citizen development, Sibley states. “The citizen development movement provides opportunities for professionals to learn new skills and create impactful applications at their own pace,” he says. “One particular reason for this growth is the recent emphasis and pressure for organizations to adapt to change and disruption with speed and agility, which IT professionals can use to their advantage as they seek to bring a renewed sense of enthusiasm to their careers.”

7. Seek professional support

A career coach can help reinvigorate a bored IT leader, says career advisor Raj Subrameyer, author of Skyrocket Your Career. “They use their personal experiences [to] give actionable strategies to advance one’s career and, most importantly, become your accountability partner.”

Subrameyer notes that research conducted by The American Society of Training and Development found that people are 65% likely to meet a goal after committing to another person. The chances of success increase to as high as 95% when their progress is regularly monitored.

Subrameyer urges IT leaders to always remain receptive to new ideas and pathways. “The key to a successful IT career is to constantly keep learning.”