How do I Become a CIO?

I’ve been in IT for about four years as an individual contributor and would like to be a CIO one day. How do I get there?

I would like to begin by congratulating you on performing the first three steps toward becoming a CIO. These steps are: 1. Defining your long term goal 2. Realizing that you need a plan 3. Seeking advice on how to proceed

Defining your long term goal Whether your long term goal is to be a CIO, Data Scientist, Data Center Manager, or any other senior professional role, having a goal you are willing to pursue is the needed first step. This goal helps give your professional life purpose and direction. This purpose helps you stay motivated when things get tough, provides you with a context for making decisions when different career choices opportunistically appear, reduces the chance that you will haphazardly move from job-to-job just to do something different rather than for promotional opportunity.

Realizing that you need a plan There is an old expression that says a goal without a plan is only a daydream. Realizing the need for a formal plan is important because it forces you to define the steps that are required to reach your goal. These steps may include the: • Work assignments to obtain • College degrees to earn • Professional certifications to achieve • Interim promotions to pursue • Industry knowledge to learn

Seeking advice on how to proceed Seeking career advice from knowledgeable people can be of great value to you throughout your career. In fact, my suggestion to you is to try to find a mentor and/or professional coach who can help you navigate your career toward your ultimate goal of CIO.

To directly answer your question of how to become a CIO, there is not one direct path or secret formula needed to get you there. It’s a combination of hard work, channeled natural ability, emotional intelligence, business acumen, making good career decisions, resiliency, and a little bit of good luck. This advice may seem quite vague, and it is, but it’s a good list of personal attributes that will help you move up professionally. That said, let’s expand on each of these items with the objective of making them more tangible and action oriented.

Hard work Working hard provides two key professional advantages. First, it helps build your professional brand as someone who can get the job done, cares about his/her work, and is willing to do what it takes to complete the task. Second, working hard opens doors. These doors may be the opportunity to work on an important project that can boost your career, get a choice assignment that provides visibility to senior management, or other similar advantage.

Channeled natural ability We all have different natural abilities. You may be a great software developer, tester, business analyst, DBA, computer security specialist, and so on. While in the technical ranks, guide your career toward your strengths. This will allow you to more quickly rise above the crowd and get noticed. It’s a wonderful thing when natural ability, hard work, and perseverance converge. This combination creates legendary athletes in the sports world and highly sought after professionals in the business world.

Emotional intelligence Emotional intelligence begins by understanding and managing your own emotions and then expands toward understanding others and using this knowledge to work with and lead others. This topic deserves far more explanation than I can provide here. I strongly suggest you research it on the internet or buy Dan Goleman’s book on the topic.

Business acumen By business acumen, I mean that you must act the part. By acting the part, I mean a high level of professionalism, ethics, teamwork, and quality decision making.

Making good career decisions This is where a mentor or professional coach can be of great value. It has been said that people’s professional success or failure can be heavily influenced by a handful of decisions they make during their career. Getting quality advice on these important decisions can be of great professional value. Questions, like those I’m often asked in my column regarding which job to take, to pursue an MBA or MS in Computer Science, and which technology to learn next, can have a significant effect on your future professional marketability and advancement. Advice from someone who knows you personally, including your strengths, weaknesses, and aspirations, can help you make the right decisions at the right time.

Resiliency This may sound like an odd attribute of successful people; after all, they are successful. What you don’t see from the outside are the setbacks, disappointments, and difficulties that it took them to get there. Yes, there are the privileged few where everything seems to always go right. For the majority, however, their professional journey included losing a job, failing at an important task, not getting the big promotion they thought they deserved, being reorganized from under a boss they loved to a boss they hated, and so on. These people were able to move forward because of their personal resiliency. That is to say, they had the ability to pick themselves up off the floor and try again.

Little bit of good luck Well, yes, sometimes good luck comes into play. For example, taking a job you didn’t want because it was the only one available and the company grew dramatically. These stories happen, but they are not the norm. Most often, people make their own luck. That is to say, when opportunity knocked, they had the right experience, knowledge, business savvy, and professional brand to open the door that became unlocked and partially ajar.

If you have any questions about your career in IT, please email me at or find me on Twitter at @EricPBloom and @MgrMechanics or at

Until next time, work hard, work smart, and continue to build your professional brand.

Read more of Eric Bloom's Your IT Career blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Eric on Twitter at @EricPBloom. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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