AARP is a Very Technology Savvy Company, Yes, AARP

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I had the incredible pleasure of speaking with AARP CIO Terry Bradwell. From a CIO’s perspective, he is living the dream and, in my eyes, is a role model for all IT professionals, from the newest intern to the most experienced CIO. This is what he said and how it can help you in your career.

I met Terry at the AARP conference in Boston where he introduced AARP TEK (the TEK stands for Technology, Education and Knowledge). TEK is a major AARP initiative to help educate the 50+ audience about computer technology. This major AARP undertaking was conceived and is now being led by Terry, their CIO.

I asked him how he came up with the idea for TEK so I could provide an example to my readers, of all IT professional levels, how an IT conceived idea can truly be embraced by the organization it serves. He said that “AARP is in the business of doing good and as the CIO I thought to myself about how IT could help.” He went on to explain that, by its nature, IT is connected to the entire organization and that, generally speaking, IT people are “wired to integrate”. During our discussion it became very clear to me that it was Terry’s combination of his: • belief in his company’s mission (improving the lives of all as they age), • desire for IT to maximize its value to the organization, • understanding of internal organizational workings, • and the willingness and ability to internally market his ideas to company leadership . . . . . . that made AARP TEK a reality.

He went on to say that IT should be run like a start-up business and must grow, adapt and change to maximize its value to its internal customers. He said that reliable infrastructure and production must be a given, but everyone working within IT must also look beyond that and ask themselves what else can and should be done.

I then asked Terry what career advice he would like to offer related to how everyone within IT can help their organizations and in turn, help advance their careers. He suggested: • Find great mentors that you would like to emulate. You should seek them out and interview them to assure that there is mutual feeling of honesty and respect. • Learn about the fundamentals of business in general and the business you are supporting. This allows you to think strategically from a business perspective, not for just technology sake. • Become an influencer inside and outside of IT. This allows you to enhance your value and the value of IT in general. • Start building your professional brand now, based on where you would like to be in three to five years. That way, when future opportunities arise, you will ready by having the business knowledge, internal influence, and professional brand already in place. • For those aspiring to senior IT management roles, never become a “one trick pony” in regard to being considered only a technology person; expand your horizons and become a business person that is very knowledgeable in technology.

After speaking with Terry, by his suggestion, I went to the conference exhibit location to see the AARP TEK Learning area and found two very impressive things. First, the AARP TEK Learning area was not one small booth at the side, by my observation/estimation by looking at the conference hall, it was 10% or 20% of the entire exhibition space and it was free to all attendees. A second thing I learned, was that many of the people working in the AARP TEK area were members of the IT staff. From a leadership perspective, this approach had the following three benefits: • Allowing internal IT people to interact with, and as a result, better understand the customers, further enhances the value of IT to the organization • Motivates his team by letting them participate in a wider range of activities • Illustrates to his staff what IT leadership is all about and how it should be done

More information on the AARP TEK program can be found at www.AARP.org/AARPTEK.

If you have any questions about your career in IT, please email me at eric@ManagerMechanics.com or find me on Twitter at @EricPBloom.

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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