10 tips to build your career in IT

So you've heard that, despite doubts about the economy, CIO salaries can still reach £200,000 - or higher. You'd like a slice of that action. But first you need to build your IT career. What's the secret of the high-earners?

So you've heard that, despite doubts about the economy, CIO salaries can still reach £200,000 - or higher. You'd like a slice of that action. But first you need to build your IT career. What's the secret of the high-earners?

When you meet some of the most successful IT professionals in the world, one fact shines out: none of them set out with pound (or dollar) signs in their eyes. They simply wanted to be great IT people who added value to their organisations. And because they were, the success and the stellar salaries (in some cases) followed as a matter of course.

So what is the secret of their success? Here are 10 characteristics which the top IT leaders share

1. They understand how IT can help their businesses grow.

To put it another way, they know what part IT should play to help realise the organisation's strategy. Take, for example, Sharon Bevis-Hoover, Coca-Cola's director of IT global transformation. Last year, she caught the eye of Coke's new chief executive Muhtar Kent, who asked her to work out how IT could help transform the global business.

2. They lead from the front.

They know that's the way to build a high-performing IT team. Jacqueline Guichelaar, who has a high-profile IT role at Deutsche Bank, can provide a lesson or two there. Her ability to build and lead teams of IT professionals has propelled her career through a succession of big IT jobs around the globe.

3. They know how to make change happen.

That is important when so many people feel threatened by IT-led change. You can't manage change well unless you're as fascinated by people - and what makes them tick - as with technology, advises Graham Johnson, transformation director at Ecclesiastical Insurance.

4. They are great IT talent-spotters.

They know that effective IT leaders don't grab all the glory for themselves. Every one of the top IT leaders has that ability.

5. They talk business language.

They know managers aren't impressed with technical jargon. As Abby Ewen, director of business transformation at global law firm Simmons & Simmons, say, "I can have nerdy conversations with the best of them, but I can also have strategic conversations. And I think that part of being a good manager is being able to make the leap between high-level and low-level subjects."

6. They know that great IT projects come from great teams.

Heather Allan is corporate services director at The Global Fund, which deploys a £2bn each year to fight Aids, tuberculosis and malaria. She says, "You have to motivate and inspire a team with a clear vision of the future and you have to energise and motivate people to want to achieve it."

7. They create strong relationships with their stakeholders.

To put it another way, you need to win friends and influence people. Take Ian Woosey, group IT and e-commerce director at Carpetright. He worked with people throughout the company to help design end-to-end processes which new IT systems would support. Then he gave people in the business a role in defining the new system requirements.

8. They manage expectations of IT.

IT is not a 'silver bullet' that solves all problems. Allan Paterson, director of information systems for the Isle of Man government, says, "The key to a successful career in IT is delivery, delivery, delivery." But, notes Paterson, that doesn't mean agreeing with every off-the-wall idea that comes your way.

9. They use new technologies to deliver competitive edge.

One top IT professional who knows about this is Richard Cross, technology director at ITV. Cross has been proactive in finding ways to use IT to cut costs. And he was also at the forefront in helping ITV harness digital technologies to deliver new viewer services.

10. They contribute to senior management decision-making.

In order to do so, they acquire deep industry knowledge to add to their IT expertise. And that lesson applies as much in the public as the private sector. For example, the fact that Alan Cook acquired a deep knowledge of local government as well as IT made him an ideal choice for head of service business improvement and IT at Cumbria County Council.

And there's a final lesson, too. All the top IT professionals have a clear idea what they need to develop their careers. Then they acted to make it happen. Decisively.


Now buy the book

How to Build a Successful Career in IT by Peter Bartram features inspiring stories from 15 senior IT professionals talking about how they built their careers. The book, published by New Venture Publishing in co-operation with Computer Weekly, is available online, price £12.95, from www.successfulitcareer.co.uk .

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