IT career success and advice: Tom Catalini, CIO, Boston Museum of Fine Arts

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This is the next segment of an interview series that I will be intermittently including in my “Your IT Career” blog. The rationale for this series is that who better to ask for career advice, than those who have reached the top position within our IT profession.

In each of these interviews I asked two questions:

1. How did you get to your level of professional success?
2. What advice could you give my readers to enhance their professional careers?

As part of this series, it was an honor and privilege to speak with Tom Catalini, CIO of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (MFA). He is also very active in the IT industry and is currently the President of the Boston Chapter of the Society for Information Management (SIM).

When speaking with Mr. Catalini, it became immediately apparent that the museum’s keen eye for selecting impressive and high quality pieces of art has been repurposed and used in their employee selection process.

Question #1: How did you get to your level of professional success?
When asked this question, Mr. Catalini said that he began his career working at an IT consulting firm, rather than within IT itself. He said that this experience was of great value because it provided him with a strategic perspective on IT very early in his career. He went on to say, that as an IT consultant, rather than in internal IT resource, that the discussions had a much broader perspective of IT’s role and function.

From consulting, Mr. Catalini then joined an Internet startup company in the education space. He said the startup was fast growing and that he learned an enormous amount about working within IT. Because the organization was growing so quickly, he fondly referred to it as “trial by fire”. From there, he went on to a fast-growing company in the financial services industry and then into his current role at the MFA.

He attributed his career advancement and success to a few factors.

• Early in his career, his manager, and ultimately his mentor, recognized that his abilities were stronger in communicating with others, planning, and leading projects than they were as a hands-on technologist.
• He was always very comfortable dealing with change. In fact, he would seek out parts of the company that were doing new things and/or facing reorganization.
• He was (and still is) active in IT professional associations which provided a great peer group to discuss ideas and issues and is also a great venue for professional networking.
• Lastly, early on, he recognized the true value of having a mentor to provide guidance and direction when navigating his career.

Question #2: What advice could you give my readers to enhance their professional careers?

Mr. Catalini answered this question with the following advice:

• Understand that in today’s IT world, it’s not about just the technology. There are no "IT" projects, only business projects that need “IT” support.
• Soft skills are key to moving ahead professionally. It’s very important to communicate with people who are less technical than you in a way they can understand.
• Be transparent in your conversations with others. It helps you build trust and be “shoulder-to-shoulder” with your peers when marching toward company goals.
• Take advantage of training opportunities in both hard skills and soft skills. Examples of this soft skill training include project management and written communication.
• Know your industry, your company, and the high level metrics that are important to the leaders of your organization.
• Actively seek out mentors. They will help you bring perspective to your career and can provide you with valuable advice on how to move toward your professional goals.

Mr. Catalini gave an additional and incredibly insightful observation and suggestion. He said that the IT/computer profession has two primary directions, “internal IT” and the vendors (service providers) that “serve IT”. He suggested that if your interests are in working hand-in-hand with your business counterparts then consider a career in “internal IT”. If you are more interested in just the technology, consider a career within the vendor community. Both are great options, but are very different professions.

In closing, on behalf of my readers, I would like to thank Mr. Catalini for his time, insightful thought, and career advice. It is truly appreciated. Mr. Catalini and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) can be found at www.MFA.org. Information on the Society for Information Management (SIM) can be found at www.SIMnet.org. You can find more of Tom’s thoughts on IT leadership, strategy, and management on his blog at www.tomcatalini.com.

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 grow.

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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