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Top 10 undergraduate courses for the CIO track

If you're thinking about becoming a CIO, you can lay a good foundation by taking courses that translate into the skills and knowledge you'll be using every day. Seasoned CIO Jay Rollins offers a list of essential classes that will help you get ready for the job.

If you're thinking about becoming a CIO, you can lay a good foundation by taking courses that translate into the skills and knowledge you'll be using every day. Seasoned CIO Jay Rollins offers a list of essential classes that will help you get ready for the job.


I was recently asked by a prospective undergraduate student what courses she should take if she wanted to become a CIO. Here is my version of the top 10 classes that have an impact on the CIO role, in order of how frequently the skills learned are used during a month in the life of a CIO.

Note: This article originally appeared as an entry in our CIO in Action blog. It's also available as a PDF download.

1: MG-200 Interpersonal Relations in Management

This will help you work with others -- employees, peers, managers, vendors, etc. There are various layers of detail to this subject that all play a role in business relationships, but in general, knowing who to talk to, when to talk to them, and knowing how to leverage these relationships is probably the largest part of the CIO job.

2: FI-300 Principles of Accounting and Finance

Corporate structures, financing options for projects and initiatives, financial metrics, and financial statements and how they are influenced all play a key role in defining and developing what technology initiative to pursue and what should be part of the business case.

3: IPM 300 Business Process and Systems: Business process design, modeling and mapping

This one is key to understanding how to flowchart business processes and model more efficient processes. This gives you a better way to look at business processes, no matter what department or industry, and to get enough detail to understand how it all works and, later, how to best apply technology to it.

4: IPM 300 Decision Support and Business Intelligence

You need to understand the data that organizations capture and how to get at it, design it, and deliver it in digestible chunks that allow business leaders to make decisions. One of the opportunities here is designing information so that decisions are coordinated and limiting the opportunities to make conflicting decisions.

5: IB 400 International Business Management

Although I don't use it currently, in my previous positions this came in real handy. It helps show you that the world is not that big after all. It lets you review many of the interesting business aspects, regulatory environments, and market structures of business abroad.

6: ES 300 Entrepreneurial Studies

This class helps with the understanding of funding models and how to get and raise money for new ventures or projects. Additionally, courses like this can teach you good habits for voraciously reading everything you can get your hands on about your industry, your markets, etc.

7: ST 101 Fundamentals of Operational Statistics

Although traditional statistics show you how to take tons of data and identify means and medians, operational statistics provides a practical business view on how you can use stats to make an impact on business. In essence, it is more practical than theoretical. Studies of the effects of variation on predictable systems, X-bar and control charts, and using statistics to measure processes are all very useful.

8: COM 200 Business Communications

This course covers the use of correspondence, e-mail, and communication styles. We have all seen how bad the writing is in the business world. This will help you learn what to communicate and how to communicate it before you blast the entire company with useless information. It also helps with presentation delivery and development.

9: CS 200 Database Architectures

The granular design of data structures in a database comes in handy when looking at ERP applications and internal software development. It is not so much that you are building database structures every day, but it influences how you think about these things.

10: CS 400 Programming in C# / Java

Understanding at least one object-oriented programming language is a big help. You may not be coding all the time, but it influences how you think. Principles of inheritance and class creation help in the software selection or design processes.

There are also some non-degree courses I would recommend, such as one that deals in the use of Microsoft Excel or other spreadsheet applications.


Other possibilities?

Do you think these courses will be valuable for someone pursuing the CIO career path? What other classes would you recommend?

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