Career of an Information Professional, from Developer to CIO


imageI was having lunch with a colleague the other day. As I was describing to him the challenges I’m tackling as the Chief Information Officer over at AIIM, he asked me, “What prepared you for all that?” I gave a generic answer about how my last job prepared me but as I think back, I’m wrong.

Everything worked to prepare me.

You often heard it said that we are the accumulation of our experiences. If I had to distill what it was that prepared me for my current position, there are several things that did so over time.

While this is far from the only career path to CIO, this was my path. For many Information Professionals, it can be their path.

Pie the Developer

I wrote my first program in junior high. Later, when we got a computer at home, there weren’t a lot of good games, so to “play” with the computer, I started writing graphics programs in Basica. I went to Auburn, took some Computer Science classes but ended up with a degree in Management Information Systems.

My first job? COBOL developer.

I was solving Benefit Management problems for clients. I later created new systems in Visual Basic in order to move off of the mainframes and take advantage of the growing power of the PC. I then leveraged my database skills and VB proficiency to get a job on a project doing Correspondence Management for the Air Force.

You got it, a Content Management-based Case Management system.

Pie the Systems Consultant

This was a transition, not a light-switch. I was a developer that became an expert in some of the inner workings of PC DOCS. That allowed me to become a consultant for PC DOCS which allowed me to learn about Content Management as a whole, not just specific technology.

The most important lesson I learned?

The wilds of the data center to not equate to the controlled environment of the lab.

That was the turning point. I started learning the wide array of variables that exist in the wild. Firewalls, hardened servers, storage configurations, flavors of UNIX, and the impact of all those silly little security patches.

Over time I moved to a partner integrator and gradually moved up the ranks on various projects. During this time, I did two things, I used various Content Management technologies, not just Documentum, and I worked in different verticals ranging from Pharma to Government to Healthcare.

Pie the Solution Consultant

What I learned was that for all their differences, there are common issues, and solutions, regardless of the technology or the vertical. There is never one way to look at things.

The most useful skills came as I reached the more senior roles. I was working on project that were no longer silo applications. They interacted with multiple business units and systems. I went from thinking, “The system needs to perform X,” to “The solution needs to solve Y.”

That is the core an Information Professional. They look beyond simply implementing information systems. The Information Professional looks at the information and determines how it can be better leveraged to solve business problems.

Pie the CIO

I’m on the next leg of my journey. I’m applying all of this to helping AIIM achieve its goals of being the Global Community of Information Professionals. It helps that I am a long-time member of AIIM and understand its mission, but there has been a lot more to learn.

When I was asked the if my experience had prepared me, the answer is Yes. While there are challenges and the job isn’t easy by any measure, the skills are there.

  • Budget: Fixed-price contracts, proposal development, clients with limited budgets, and internal budgets. Check.
  • Conflicting System Priorities: The user needs 5 features but we only have budget to deliver 3 plus an architecture change that will maintain stability for future growth. Define that and sell the need while keeping people happy. Three different clients want 4 deliverables and I have to buy my son’s Christmas present. Check.
  • Unfamiliar Systems: Jumping to new verticals and learning their priorities. Changing between from

In fact, my vertical industry jumping in the past is probably the most important part of my career path. Having to quickly apply core Information principles to new environments with different priorities has helped immensely.

Moving Forward

Technology is always changing. In the 90s the Web was the new thing that everyone had to have. Now it is mobile. In the 90s, everyone was shifting to a 3-tier system architecture. Now everyone wants to shift to the cloud.

Behind all of it there is the reality that business needs to get done. Technology simply enables information to serve the business.

A final note. This post assumes that I’ll be a successful CIO. Vision and experience isn’t enough. Execution matters.

Time will tell.