A colleague of mine made a comment yesterday that I have heard a number of times from long-time IT veterans who have become CIOs. The comment was, “I’ve been in this business too long to be impressed by technology.” I started thinking about what this meant about someone who is a highly effective CIO, recognized by his peers as a leader in the field. I began to wonder if the “twinkle” in our eyes for technology that got us into the field in the first place is even necessary to be a CIO or whether it has been relegated to the realm of the CTO only.
When I first started thinking about this topic, I was equating the “twinkle” with passion for technology. But after further thought, I realized that the CIO described above certainly has a passion for his job and the effective use of technology in his organization.
Conversely, I still have that “twinkle” for the “coolness” (yes, I know the word dates me) of technology, and yet I believe I am equally effective as a CIO. I can make business decisions regarding technology based on quality, best features, ROI, etc., and still be excited about it. Does this make me different from my counterparts?
I then began to think about the two job roles (CIO and CTO) and also the time spent in those positions. If you wear the CIO title long enough, you will find that your actual connection to technology is through the media and your staff. Your days of daily hands-on work disappear — replaced with budgets, reports, meetings, decision making, posturing, politicking, networking, and the like. Do it long enough and you become jaded as to vendor’s promises, hardware and software performing as it should, promises of adequate funding, etc.
The CTO on the other hand is responsible for day-to-day operations and is much closer to the technology than the CIO. While a good CIO still has a strong handle on how technology works, the CTO is responsible for knowing more of the nitty-gritty detail. Thus they are perhaps more apt to retain the “twinkle?”
Both the CTO and CIO can become jaded by the unfulfilled promises of technology, but the CIO often shields the CTO from much of the unpleasantness that comes from being at the top of the pile. Unlike the proverb that “#$% rolls down hill,” most of the good CIOs I know actually are more like the little Dutch girl who struggles to keep the dike from overflowing, thus trying to protect their subordinates down stream.
The more I thought about the CIO position, the more I realized that the “twinkle” is not necessary to perform well. Knowledge of technology, understanding of the business, budgeting and communication skills, strategic thinking, and vision are important to success as a CIO.
For the CTO, however, having that passion for technology probably helps drive them to continue to explore new technologies that can be put into place in their organizations.
So does having the “twinkle” provide me with any advantages or disadvantages as a CIO? I guess I have a propensity to let the gee-whiz factor of technology affect my decision making — and I realize that could be a pitfall, but I don’t believe I am that naive. On the other hand, it does perhaps make me a little more curious as I approach new technologies and perhaps a bit braver in adopting a technology that isn’t mainstream.
I know from a management perspective that the “twinkle” allows me to instantly connect with my staff when they are wowed by a technological accomplishment or new tool and are hollering, “How cool is that?!!”
So in the final analysis, I have no definitive answer to the question of whether or not the “twinkle” can make you a better CIO or not. I can appreciate that it is not a required trait for an effective CIO. However, I think that having the “twinkle” makes the job more enjoyable and makes me a lot more fun to be around. All I know is that at the end of the day, I go home to a house that has seven PCs, a closet full of old hardware, two occupants, and we are both very happy. The “twinkle” may not be required, but I hope I never lose it.
How about you? Do you still have the “twinkle” in your eye for cool technology or are you too cynical (or busy!) to enjoy that aspect these days?