By Deborah Rothberg  |  Posted 2006-11-17 Print this article Print

From geography to CIO to college dean Dr. Virginia Hetrick, former CIO for the University of California, Los Angeles Institute of Archaeology, and the associate dean for network and communications management at the Long Beach campus of DeVry Universitys Keller Graduate School of Management, didnt start her career in IT.
"My academic training was in geography, culminating with a Ph.D. from the University of Washington. My particular areas of interest changed several times while I was in school, but ultimately I found the area of computational science the most interesting. This is the application of [IT] to solving problems faced in research," said Hetrick.
Along the road, she held positions from IT activities committee chair, research scientist, and developer of a data management system, and ran a project that partnered the University of Florida with IBM and NASA in solving practical analysis problems. "My path to CIO was literally a result of being in the right place at the right time. In truth, when I started working, probably no one in any industry was a CIO. As best as I can remember, the individual who today would be called a CIO was then referred to as the head computer guy or our IT manager. The first revelation along this path was when the idea that data and information were different beasts came along," said Hetrick. However, Hetrick tries to reinforce the idea of the evolution of positions within IT to her students. "When they come to school, most only have their first job after graduation in mind. Theyre not giving much thought to their second or 10th. We want them to see the realities of progression through various IT fields and their respective positions. Some lead to CIO, some dont. Most paths will take them from company to company, sometimes creating a full circle back to an earlier employer. Unless taking an entrepreneurial path from the start, it is very rare that an IT person remains with the same company for his or her entire career," said Hetrick. From application programmer to IT director James Johnson, CIO of the Richmond-based Performance Fibers, a producer of industrial polyester, started out as a mainframe applications programmer at Merrill Lynch, supporting their brokerage applications. Johnson was promoted to IT specialist and then left for business school. After business school, he was a manager/consultant at Renaissance Worldwide. From there, he held various positions as an IT leader and director at Honeywell International before becoming CIO at Performance Fibers. While Johnson has always worked in IT, he says he doesnt define himself as an "IT guy." "I look at myself as a business professional who understands IT versus the other way around. Having a good feeling for the business and the value that can be derived by leveraging IT assets has always been my focus. It helps align my projects to the critical needs of my business counterparts versus being a one-off IT effort." He began to focus on the CIO level as he matured in his IT career. "I find that the CIO role gives me the opportunity to marry my business acumen and technical aptitude and get the best out of both. While in college, I received very good advice from a manager at Merrill Lynch. He advised me to change my major from Computer Science to Economics because I could always be trained in the technical area by Merrill Lynch, but having a solid understanding of business would be critical over the course of my career. Im glad I listened to him," said Johnson. From programming analyst to consulting partner Ken Auman, vice president and CIO of The Hartford Financial Services Groups property-casualty operations, heading a staff of five CIOs, has always worked in IT. Happiest working with people, Auman doesnt consider himself a career planner. "There are people who carefully plan out their careers, but Im not one of them. I plan aspects of my personal life … but in my work life Ive tended to focus on the bumper of the car in front of me, rather than on the long road ahead. I hadnt planned it, but the skills I learned along the way just naturally led to CIO," said Auman. Yet, he considers each move—from programmer analyst to IT consulting partner to moving to his present company because it was his favorite client—part of his career progression. "Compensation is always a factor, since it enabled me to travel to exotic places and enjoy some unique experiences, and now to provide for my family. For the most part, though, Ive actively sought out the opportunities to work with people Ive most respected so I could learn from them," said Auman. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis on IT management.


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