If your ultimate career goal is to become a Chief Information Officer (CIO) one day, your ambition deserves the highest praise. You’re shooting for the stars, as you should. Still, you need a step-by-step career development plan unless you want your desire to be a CIO to remain just a dream. Here’s everything it should include.
What a CIO Does
A CIO is one of the top positions one can hold in the IT industry. They are the executive responsible for all things information technologies in their company, which includes leading all IT professionals and taking care of a wide array of processes. A CIO is in charge of the company’s IT architecture, managing IT teams (or, more accurately, managing the managers of IT teams), and taking care of budget planning.
Given how vast CIO’s responsibilities are, they never have to rely solely on themselves. Behind every successful CIO, there’s always a large team of competent professionals managing day-to-day tasks and advising them on company-wide processes akin to finances or information security. Still, to be respected and capable of leading the company’s entire IT staff, a CIO needs substantive tech knowledge and unparalleled leadership skills.
Get a Bachelor’s
First, hardly anyone can become a CIO without a four-year college degree. Education is the first thing you’ll be asked when you hire a resume writer to apply for a CIO position. These days, it’s pretty common to become a software developer with an impressive six-figure salary after just a boot camp. But if you’d like to grow into a CIO sometime in the future, skipping a traditional college degree isn’t a brilliant idea.
The thing is, a college education is about so much more than just the tech skills you can get at a boot camp. It’s also about comprehensive “general education” classes akin to finance, management, and leadership. All of those might be arbitrary for a middle-level software developer but not the first IT person at a company. So a Bachelor’s is a must for a would-be CIO.
Computer science is obviously the best degree choice for someone who’d like to become a CIO. It can be IT, software engineering, or any other relevant major. Ideally, choose a school with a good IT reputation, such as Cornell or New York University. But that’s not the most important thing. If you build a successful career after graduation, no one will care where you studied.
Gain Enough Work Experience in Different Jobs
The part that matters for a future CIO the most is the work experience they accumulate throughout their career. One doesn’t become a CIO five or even ten years after graduation. You’re looking at at least fifteen or so years working different jobs in the IT field. Those include:
- A regular software engineer or developer of almost any kind. To be a competent CIO, you must have a solid technical background. Education alone isn’t enough, so you must spend a few years working as a software engineer, computer network architect, information security analyst, or similar.
- IT Project Manager. A CIO is, first and foremost, a leader. Recent surveys show that companies are willing to hire a non-tech background as their CIO as long as they have outstanding leadership and communication skills and have mastered systems thinking. Project management can certainly help with all of those.
- IT Director. Finally, an IT Director is typically seen as the highest non-executive position at a company and a perfect stepping stone for a CIO career. Similarly to a CIO, an IT Director is in charge of all things technology but isn’t responsible for shareholder communication. That’s why IT Directors typically work with CIOs and are the first place companies look when looking for a CIO replacement.
Passing these milestones isn’t just about building a perfect resume for a CIO position. It’s also about learning various skills (including both hard and soft ones) that can help you land a CIO job and succeed in it.
Get a Master’s
As a CIO is an executive-level position, having a Master’s is recommended for everyone who’d like to become one. A Master of Business Administration (MBA) helps any would-be CIO fill in the gaps in their expertise in business and leadership. Those aren’t typically covered in tech degrees much, so returning to school can help.
In the past, CIOs were viewed as strictly tech employees, but that’s no longer the case. Now, employer surveys show that some of the most critical skills they are looking for in candidates for CIO positions are effective team management, skilled leadership, high emotional intelligence, a deep understanding of business processes, and the ability to communicate a clear vision. A computer science Bachelor’s isn’t too helpful with those, but an MBA is.
How to Find and Land a CIO Position?
Finally, remember that you won’t find too many CIO job listings on job boards (unless you’re okay with working at a small company no one knows about). Ask any recruiter—and they’ll confirm that executive-level positions are filled via networks or headhunting. You can’t just send a resume unless you’re a true rock star in your industry.
That’s why an essential part of becoming a CIO is networking. Don’t neglect your LinkedIn profile. Stay in touch with basically everyone you encounter throughout your professional journey. Actively seek out “helpful” contacts in your industry and hold onto them. These steps will ensure that when a tech company you’d like to work at is looking for a CIO replacement.
To Wrap It Up
Becoming a CIO isn’t that different from becoming a C-anything, from CEO to CFO. The requirements include good education (including both a tech four-year degree and an MBA), a variety of relevant past jobs listed on your resume, and, no less notably, tons of networking. Also, if you’re still at the beginning of your career, you’ll need a lot of patience. The career path that ends with a CIO position isn’t short.
Taylor is a freelance SEO copywriter and blogger. His areas of expertise include technology, pop culture, and marketing.