Education

CIO came to IT by way of broadcasting

There are many different paths one can take in a career in IT. Jay Rollins began his career in broadcasting. Read about the events that brought him into IT.

I've gotten a lot of questions from TechRepublic members about the best ways to direct their careers. There is the inevitable certification vs. degree debate as well as questions about experience vs. education.

Since each situation is unique, there is no clear answer across the board. What I've decided to do in the coming weeks, however, is feature personal stories from top IT pros as to how they got into IT and succeeded at it. I hope you'll find these stories useful in making your own career moves.

First up is Jay Rollins. Jay has served as VP of IT/CIO of several mid-sized companies and technology start ups. He has varied industry experience including gaming, media and entertainment, healthcare and ecommerce. I first met Jay a couple of years ago when he was the CIO of Churchill Downs, the thoroughbred racetrack here in Kentucky most famous for hosting the Kentucky Derby annually. Here's the story of his path into IT:I went to college out of high school but could not afford to continue after my Freshman year so I joined the Navy. I did television and radio broadcasting. I was a news anchor, director, technical director and radio DJ in Alaska and Japan. When I got out, I used the GI Bill to pay for my under grad. I worked full time with the Navy as a civilian public affairs officer responsible for TV operations and went to school full time.

When I was working for the Navy as a civilian I started learning how to build a database in Paradox so we could be more efficient in generating press releases and archiving news stories. During this time I owned my first PC. While trying to make more room on my hard drive so I could play a video game I deleted two files that I thought were unimportant (AUTOEXEC.BAT and CONFIG.SYS). Obviously that was a bad thing to do. I re-built those files over the phone with my father who was a software developer. Once I understood what the various lines in these files were and how they controlled everything about the computer, I realized how straight forward computers seemed. From there, I became the office IT guy as well. That was when they asked me to create the website.

Once I started to learn HTML, I knew that this was the future and quickly changed careers. Upon graduation with a BS in management from UMASS and a couple of websites under my belt, I landed my first IT job as a webmaster. I read a ton of books to teach myself Javascript, ASP, and VB. Basically I went through all the tutorials I could get my hands on and then applied what I learned in what I was developing. The company paid for some training later on where I learned Lotus Notes, Power Builder and Oracle PL SQL. The Oracle training was probably the most valuable for me. Once I understood databases, everything fell into place. About 2 years into my new IT career, I started my MBA and Bentley College in Waltham, MA.

The broadcasting career helped a lot with communication. We were taught to write at the sixth grade level to make it easier for our audience to absorb what we were saying. That carried over into my IT career to help keep the technical jargon down to a minimum and explain technology to non-technical managers in a way that was easier for them to understand.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

7 comments
joe.hg.zhou
joe.hg.zhou

You are the luck man, I have 20 years IT experience and got my master degree in software engineering in 2007, but my fate is different way.

daveschartel
daveschartel

Unbelievable! A really technically unqualified person makes it as a CIO? There is more to IT than databases and programming. I wonder who hired this person as a CIO. Maybe if someone can talk and write well that qualifies them?

santeewelding
santeewelding

Is what I think you mean, further implying, to think well. Yes. That's all it takes to ride herd on you.

Drockk
Drockk

Great article. As an upcoming college graduate, stories like this that provide IT insight are exactly what I need!

david.house
david.house

I've been a volunteer Jazz radio DJ for about 30 years now, starting in college. About 20 years ago I became paid Music Director for the main NPR station here in Albuquerque. During a staff meeting one day the GM asked if someone wanted to help the engineer fix some of the new Windows 3.1 machines we were about to bring in-house. I raised my hand. (As much fun as opening and cataloging 100+ CDs a week was, it wasn't very mentally challenging after several years.) I blew up a few motherboards, but learned IT and eventually networking, and at one point was asked to work as Primary Investigator on a grant to build the station's first web site. I taught myself HTML inorder to maintain the web site. I fell in love. HTML led me to try my hand at ColdFusion in order to move the station's music library database from cards in a poorly maintained file cabinet to something online. I eventually migrated my job to being the full time IT/network/web guy. A couple of years ago I completely jumped ship and now work for on a web team for the federal government. I still do my radio show every week. On the side I also work as IT/network/web guy (and network announcer) for a Native American-owned radio network. Lots of irons in the fire, but lots of job satisfaction too.

daveevans28
daveevans28

Please add into the story how they got their initial IT hands -on experience, since that seems so important for getting hired. (No experience, no job. No job, no experience). Thanks

wdpent
wdpent

I also was in broadcasting and I am trying to get into IT and having the exact same problem. (No experience, no job. No job, no experience). Even trying to volunteer is not working out. What can I do?