Todays IT Leaders Must Take Social Responsibility

Opinion: World Wildlife Fund CIO Gregory Smith takes on Net safety-and challenges his peers.

Successful professionals—regardless of their industry or sector—have a responsibility to share knowledge, give back and help prepare the next generation of leaders.

Its a responsibility that I feel strongly about, and one that Ive taken an active role in during the last decade or so. In addition to my responsibilities as vice president and CIO of the World Wildlife Fund, I mentor the next generation of IT leaders, teaching graduate school students, speaking at industry events, and publishing best practices and lessons learned via articles and books.

After I penned my last book, "Straight to the Top: Becoming a World-Class CIO," while working a full-time job and helping to raise a family, I told myself to take a break before starting another major project that could be classified as giving back.

Fast-forward three months: One evening while enjoying a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon with my wife, I watched a "Dateline NBC" program that exposed some sleazy adult predators who were preying on young teenagers using the Internet.

The "Dateline" folks reported about a group that had set up a sting operation where adults posed as teenagers in a variety of online forums. Within a relatively short period of time, the fake teens were solicited by a variety of adults looking for sex. Several of the adults actually showed up at the front door of the sting house, some with condoms in their pockets and alcohol in tow, looking to have sex with someone they thought was an underage child. What they found instead were police officers, who quickly arrested the adults and charged them with a variety of crimes related to targeting and soliciting underage minors for sexual activity.

As a parent, I was repulsed at what I saw. Predator after predator showed up at the sting house and was snared in the online trap. Shortly after the show ended and after a second glass of wine to calm my nerves, I went to my computer to research whether there were any books in print that could help parents protect children from the risks of going online.


Click here to read more about how social networking sites are exploiting teens.

To my surprise, I found a lot of articles that talked about the risks of going online but only a few books that recommended how to protect children on the Internet. The ones I did find were either too narrowly focused or written from a related perspective—say, from a law enforcement angle.

I then searched and found several great Web sites dedicated to protecting children on the Net. While some of the content was good, much of it didnt provide what I consider to be very direct recommendations that would help parents to be proactive instead of reactive. I sat down that night and developed an outline based on a totally new approach aimed at proactively arming parents and K-12 educators with the right tools and clear recommendations to keep kids safe while connected to the Internet.

As I contemplated writing this challenging text, I asked myself a question: What makes me qualified to write this important book? The honest answer seemed clear and came quickly. I am 1) a seasoned IT executive with a software development background who keeps current on a variety of technologies and has even programmed from time to time; 2) an adjunct faculty member and part-time educator with a decade of experience in the classroom; 3) an established writer with many articles and a prior book to my credit; and 4) a parent of two children.

Voila—the perfect mix of skills and expertise.

It didnt hurt that I wasnt shy about communicating my recommendations—regardless of what privacy advocates might say to contradict them. Thus, I set out to write an honest and comprehensive safety guide from a perspective that no other author had ever tackled to date—and one that I hope will put parents and teachers back in charge of protecting kids when connected to the Internet.

In closing, I challenge all of todays IT leaders to examine their own skills and determine where they can contribute to help the current and next generation prosper.

Gregory S. Smith serves as the vice president and CIO of the World Wildlife Fund in Washington, D.C.


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