Its difficult to get 10 pages into a human resources magazine or two clicks into an IT workplace site without coming across the often-spoken-of-but-rarely-defined catch phrase "career path."
It can be even more enlightening to browse different descriptions of the term. From the "defined track a person follows in the pursuit of professional goals" to "a map to the place you know you want to be in when you retire," one could propose the argument that even those proselytizing the importance of career paths have limited understanding of the ways it shakes down in a real-life job market.
Among many IT professionals, though certainly not all, the ultimate career goal is to become the boss man, the main guy, the CIO. But how many CIOs knew this was what they wanted to be even 10 or 20 years ago, when they landed their first jobs as coders, data center operators or even accountants?
eWEEK asked 13 CIOs to talk about how theyve gotten where they are today. We asked how many job titles and positions theyd held in IT before becoming CIO, if they changed jobs as a result of a predestined career path or because their previous jobs no longer interested them, and if theyd always dreamed of being CIOs.
Their answers may surprise you. Nearly half didnt even start in IT, or ever aspire to be CIOs until later down the road. The majority of them have held more than eight different titles along the way, many even more. Finally, all but a couple didnt speak to a clearly defined "career path" but a series of decisions made by gut instinct, as well as following offers they couldnt refuse. As their stories will attest, no two of them traveled identical paths.
From management trainer to VP of application systems
June Drewry, CIO of the Warren, N.J.-based Chubb Group of Insurance Companies, didnt launch her career in IT but in management training, although it didnt take her long to shift her focus to technology. In her career progression, shes held 16 positions at eight different companies, from management training to senior project management, DBA to manager of DBAs and vice president of application systems. Before taking her current CIO position, she was CIO at two other companies, one on the enterprise side, one global.
While often shunned by job advisors, Drewry found some of her lateral moves the most agreeable.
"I never looked more than one position up and often found challenge in lateral moves. My goal was never position but was to keep growing, learning and delivering more value to the corporation," said Drewry.
While many of her early job moves were in the interest of career progression, there were often specific reasons leading to her departure, from companies going out of business to companies moving headquarters and changing management to a company that had a significant value system change that left her feeling out of alignment with its perspective.
"As I matured and served in higher-level positions, the reasoning changed. … Some were better companies," said Drewry.
Drewry realizes that every decision to move is inherently difficult and based on a range of situation-specific factors. "The only common thread was that, every time, the next move offered me more opportunity to have an impact and grow personally."
From CPA to application development
Kathleen Ameche, former CIO of the Chicago-based Tribune Company, never considered the CIO position as she began her career as an accountant. But, computers piqued her interest as they began to take hold in business, leading her to jump to the consulting side at Deloitte & Touche. Ameches been in technology ever since.
"I never had the CIO position in mind. I was always apprehensive working in industry because I thought I wouldnt be challenged enough," said Ameche.
Yet, six moves later—from the directorial side of consulting to application development and director of the Y2K project management office at the Tribune Company—Ameche was CIO. While Ameche says that she never had a carved-out career path in mind, she also feels fortunate that shes never made a lateral move.
"It was always for a more challenging position that became available. Im one of those believers that having a career strategy is good, but I dont believe in making it too rigid—life holds too many options and if I had stayed in accounting, I would have missed some tremendous opportunities.