CXO

Journey of a dot-com CIO: Lessons from the trenches

Anyone who has navigated the dot-com minefield knows that it can be a tenuous career path. Read on as we share some insight from one CIO who survived the rise and fall of two dot coms and still managed to come out on top.


Janice Martinez is a CIO who has traversed from one dot com to another. Along her winding career trail, she learned valuable lessons about making the leap from an IT specialist to a CIO and technology leader. She advises that IT pros wishing to rise to the rank of CIO should build a variety of experience, learn the skills to become an innovative problem solver, and make sure they understand a company's business model. We'll share some of Martinez's insight into how those career strategies helped her as she took on technology leadership roles as a CIO at three dot coms.



Building a base of experience
With 20 years in the field, Martinez is no stranger to the fast pace that comes with a career in technology. And although she has taken on four new jobs during the past two years, she doesn't regret the rapid changes, as she's gained tremendous experience. She believes that today's IT professionals hoping to make the leap to a contract or full-time CIO gig have to be bold, be willing to take risks, and continuously build upon their resume.

"I think they have to be unafraid," she said. "When you want to become a CIO, you have to put yourself on the line and work for companies that you know may go out of existence because you need to build that base of experience."

Martinez related that making career moves during the 1970s was difficult for her, as there were few women in IT, and advancement was thwarted by sexism and glass ceilings for female tech specialists. But staying in one tech role, while financially reassuring, was the kiss of death for those who wanted to get ahead and aim for a CIO slot, she explained.

Martinez's first foray into the dot-com world was in February 2000, when she took on the role of CIO for Salud.com, a Spanish-language health news and information site. Prior to that, she had been the CIO for a brick-and-mortar healthcare company.

Unfortunately, Salud.com didn't offer her an easy segue into the dot-com environment. Salud.com's owner, George Lindemann—ranked 363 on Forbes' list of the World's Richest 2001—hired friends who weren't qualified, and the business suffered. Lindemann eventually sold the business.

He then formed a new company in September 2000 called Emerge Tech Group, a consulting company specializing in Web development. Martinez, who had earned Lindemann's respect through her work at Salud, again took on the CIO role.

Both tech and team-building skills are keys to success
Martinez's strong working relationship with Lindemann and the Salud.com experience gave her unique insight as she took on both the CIO and the CEO roles at Emerge Tech Group. She believes that her abilities to work in a team environment, along with the strong collaborative skills she honed at Salud.com, have helped her to solve problems in a confident manner. According to Martinez, team-building skills, as well as technical skills, are crucial to the CIO role.

She also added that it's beneficial to your career to seek out and mingle with other people to find out how you might make a more pointed contribution to your company. "I’ve met so many people in the technical field that say, 'Okay, give me my assignment and let me program,'" Martinez said. "Then they wonder why they can’t move up. You can’t do that. You’ve got to come up with innovative solutions through technology that will answer the business problems. People will then recognize you as a problem solver."

In the beginning…
Martinez has been working in the IT sector since the early seventies, and we wrote about her experience as an up-and-comer in her TechRepublic featured member profile.

You have to roll with the punches
Unfortunately, Emerge Tech closed after three months in operation, so Martinez's leadership roles at the company were short lived. But as luck would have it, a recruiter was searching for a CIO for WOWpoints.com, a rewards-program site in Deerfield Beach, FL, at the time and contacted Martinez about the new opportunity. By December 2000, Martinez had stepped into her third CIO position.

Her crowning achievement at WOWpoints.com was developing an application that tracks members' points through a registered credit card technology. The project, however, lost its funding, and development stopped in May 2001. But the software Martinez and her longtime tech team created is still in demand and has led to her consulting work for Sunshine MarketPlace Inc., a company launched in April 2001 to provide value-added services to timeshare developers, operators, and owners. Due to her intimate involvement with the WOWpoints software, Sunshine has contracted Martinez to develop new functionality and integrate the application with other software products for them.

Sunshine originally contracted Martinez as an advisor for a three-month term but has since expanded her role to a contract CIO for an extended period. Martinez is currently building a team in Malaysia to finish the production of the integrated software and anticipates that her contract will continue until the project is completed.

Keep the business model in view
Throughout all her different CIO stints and various tech responsibilities, Martinez said that there was one directive that remained constant.

"Technology is great, but if you don't understand the business model, you will fail," she said. She has held fast to that thinking, and Sunshine MarketPlace hired her as a CIO, she said, because she had a thorough understanding of the business model the company ultimately wants to achieve.

"Make sure you have buy-in from the people you’re working for and that they’re going to actually listen to what you have to say," Martinez advised. "That’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned from my dot-com experience. You need to get that buy-in and understand the business model."

Have you traveled a circuit of dot coms?
Have you jumped from dot com to dot bomb during the past two years, or did you remain with a company that's standing strong? Send us an e-mail about the lessons you've learned as a CIO.

 

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