CXO

Members search for success by stepping down the career ladder

Descending the CIO career ladder is a decision often prompted by the urge to do more exciting technology work, eliminate stress, and reduce long workweeks. Read these TechRepublic member stories to see how stepping down can be the right move.


In recent years, some CIO have found themselves being forced down the career ladder, due to corporate restructuring, acquisitions, or downsizing.

There are a few tech leaders, however, who have purposely stepped down, or even out, of an IT leadership role in an effort to seek out a slower pace, more family time, different challenges, and a less stressful workday.

The big payoff in most career descents isn’t money, of course, but a more rewarding life in and out of the office.

To learn more about why some CIOs would opt for a career descent, we asked TechRepublic members why they made such a career move, and if their expectations were met.

Focusing on new goals
For Joe T., an IT director who requested anonymity, leaving his leadership role and the field of IT to transition into a teaching career will provide an opportunity to “give back” after spending the last 20 years establishing a rewarding career across a number of industries and disciplines.

“I attribute a great deal of my personal and professional success to the teachers I've had. I can't imagine a better way of giving back what I've gained,” he said. In his view, he’s stepping down the IT ladder in order to start climbing another career ladder.

Doug Stein, CTO and managing director at New Frontier Advisors, recently stepped down from a big title and salary at a large venture-funded firm to take a leadership role at the small, but cash-flow positive startup.

“I’ve got a big title and small salary, but big fun,” he said. "If the business succeeds, it will prove to be a worthwhile career move. If not, I might have trouble rising up the ranks because I’m not in the club [any longer],” Stein said.

Ira Gershkoff moved out of his IT leadership role and started his own consulting company, C&I Architectures, as he wanted to concentrate on architecture planning and systems integration rather than management work.

“I'm doing this because, as a consultant, I can focus on the architecture side for a variety of client companies. While I won't have the stability of a steady paycheck, I will have less stress than my CIO colleagues,” Gershkoff said.

Gershkoff doesn’t rule out getting back on the IT ladder to ascend to another CIO position at some point, but right now he is looking forward to spending “a higher percentage of my time on the subfields within IT that I know best, and from which I can make the greatest contribution to client firms.”

Improving your lifestyle by reducing your stress
Bob Cox stepped down from a director-level management position back into a technical role about six years ago as he sought to improve his lifestyle and reduce his stress level.

“At the time, things were going well in the industry, so I did not feel any threat of job loss when making that decision,” he said.

But Cox found his tech job eliminated a year ago due to downsizing. He’s found success working as an independent consultant and hopes to continue in that role as it provides benefits his first career didn’t.

“I have been in the IT industry for 30 years, and for the previous 20 I had focused on my career. But after living on airplanes, working 60 to 80 hour weeks, excessive time away from home, and the stress of driving high growth at an integration firm, I came to realize that life is too short and mine was passing me by,” he said.

Cox’s initial plan was to return to technical work and reestablish relationships with local customers. He wanted a good income, but was no longer interested in chasing the golden ring.

“Having the lifestyle and toys that income can provide, but not having any time to enjoy them, was not a good trade-off,” Cox explained.

“I decided that rather than work myself into an early retirement by dying young, I would rather slide into retirement a step at a time. I believe technical work could give me an opportunity to do this, and management positions come with high demands and constant access from your team,” he said.

So far his career descent has proved to be the right move.

“I am not making nearly the income I have in the past, but I’m enjoying my life more now than in probably 20 years,” he said. “It can take a while for a person to realize the negative impact on his or her life of pursuing a demanding career track. The golden ring does come at a personal price. It is often too late in life that we learn that what is really important is faith, family, good health, and good friends.”

Think twice before stepping down the ladder
Stepping down from a CIO role to a consulting position was enticing to Chris Matthews, currently a business analyst, though it hasn’t panned out as well as he expected.

Matthews had served as the business systems manager/CIO for one operating company in a large holding firm. The corporate organization decided to centralize the IS department, and create a “technology company” within the company.

The restructure provided what Matthews had been looking for—an opportunity to become a consultant. It was a “step back from the management aspect and yet I’d be able help all the companies achieve their IT objectives and receive solutions that matched their business requirements.”

So he eagerly grabbed the chance to serve as an account manager for one of the operating companies and work as a liaison between it and the tech company. However, due to additional corporate reorganization stumbles, and inexperienced management, his new role didn’t work out well.

“The new management was intimidated by me and wouldn't ask, or were afraid to ask, for my advice and opinions on subjects that I was very experienced in,” Matthews explained. “They didn't even ask me to join their management team. They were jealous of the knowledge, friendships, and respect that was given to me by the workers at all levels,” he said. “Nobody wanted to manage someone who had 35 years experience in IT when he or she only had five.”

His new consultant role was then eliminated in a downsizing effort.

“If I had the advantage of hindsight I would have stayed in the new structure as manager/CIO. My expectations of the new job and organization were unjustified,” he said.

His advice to other CIOs contemplating such a move is to think twice, and then think again.

“Anyone considering the move down the ladder should think long and hard about it. It is not as easy as it would seem and probably should be done in a totally new organization for a fresh start,” Matthews said.

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