How to rise to CIO

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If you are now a mere programmer or project manager and you want to metamorphose into a chief information officer (CIO) or managing director of equities technology, it's no good just crossing your fingers and hoping for the best. You'll also need to be proactive about developing your career in the right way. According to those in the know, here's how:

  • Aspire to move from programming, to business analysis, to programming team leader. Gavin Coleman, a specialist consultant in financial services technology at executive search firm Russell Reynolds, says this is the classic route to the top in financial services IT. "People in senior roles typically have a programming background," he says, "From there, they tend to move into roles where they collect business requirements and design systems, before leading whole teams of programmers."
  • Get close to the business. "The people at the top of the spectrum have a good relationship with the technology users," says Coleman, "They need to be able to understand and articulate what the business does." Robin Paine, chief technology officer at the London Stock Exchange says people who make it to the top need experience of client contact, along with "market awareness, an understanding of corporate strategy and objectives, and the ability to translate those into technical solutions that deliver measurable business benefit."
  • Broaden your exposure. Laurent de Meeus, an IT headhunter at Egon Zehnder in London, says the people who get to the top in banking technology need an awareness of the bigger picture. "People in investment banking IT tend to become incredibly specialised," says de Meeus, "This can be a problem when it comes to moving into a general management role." For this reason, de Meeus says banks often recruit CIOs from IT consultancies, where people have a broader experience of technology across different sectors and disciplines. To avoid getting stuck in a particular specialism he advises taking career risks: ask to be moved somewhere entirely different.
  • Be nice. It's no good being an exceptionally talented programmer if you can't be civil to those around you. Dianne Hogbin, a partner at career management consultancy TalentMax, says successful IT managers have good working relationships with their peers, users and superiors. They also coach others to 'leverage their capabilities,' rather than constantly focusing on personal goals.
  • Take opportunities as they arise. Kevin Bourne, global head of execution trading at HSBC, started life as a COBOL developer at a fund management company before moving into a business role. He says a background in technology can be good foundation for a move into a revenue generating position, but you need to be opportunistic and make the most of what comes your way. It also helps to be, "able to sell and articulate the company's objective," Bourne says. "Business isn't about delivering platforms on time, but revenues ahead of time. If you can't engage customers, and bring in value, you won't be able to move out of the technology function, irrespective of your level of knowledge about the company's operations."

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