Like many IT professionals, I have long believed that success means achieving the highest point on the corporate ladder in the shortest amount of time, and I’ve spent my entire career pushing for the next rung.

While I still believe that approach is valid, it doesn’t mean there isn’t success in other IT roles. I learned that CIOs and other tech executives can take a few steps back down the ladder into a hands-on position and find themselves enjoying aspects of the job that were missing in management roles.

Job outlook prompted change
About a year ago, prompted by an organizational downsizing, I resigned from a CIO position at a medical management organization where I had worked for three years. I had arrived at that position after 10 years of IT management with increasing degrees of responsibility.

I began seeking a new position and located one in my hometown of Mobile, AL. But I made one of the biggest career mistakes you can make—I left my employer before actually stepping into the new role. In the time between leaving my old job and taking the new one, the economy forced the new employer to cancel its job offer.

I immediately began contacting companies of all sizes and applying to positions in all levels of management. During months of job searching, I was repeatedly told that my prior CIO experience was not enough for a CIO role at larger companies, but it also made me overqualified for an IT director’s position at other organizations.

Through my network of colleagues and friends in the industry, I was recommended for an entirely new role—one quite a few steps below the CIO level—as a network administrator for a small but well-established insurance company.

I have to admit, I didn’t plan on returning to my technical roots, but it has been a rewarding experience. Believe it or not, I had missed the joys and frustrations of building a new server, migrating to a new operating system, and learning a new application. There is a feeling of accomplishment when you have faced a difficult installation or pinpointed a problem with the network—a feeling that sometimes can be elusive on the management level.

Unexpected benefits
Being able to wrap my hands and mind around new technology provides me with what all techies really want in a role. I’m happy with this new position even though it’s challenging in many ways. I’ll be migrating company workstations to XP Professional this year and migrating from NT 4.0 to Windows 2000 Server. I’ll also upgrade the SQL database to SQL 2000. I’ve purchased a new Dell server and I’ll implement our own e-mail server next week.

These are all technology efforts I rarely got my hands on before. It’s been a great opportunity to catch up on technology that I’ve missed while holding management positions. I have improved my familiarity with database applications and developed plans for extensive migrations. I still have the responsibility to write policies and procedures, and I have developed a disaster recovery plan. I’ve also worked with colleagues in developing a rating system for our company’s agents, and in testing, distributing, and providing help desk support for 200 agents.

The silver lining is always there
None of us wants to be downsized, but if it happens, use it to your advantage. Develop your technical skills and take whatever training you can to broaden your skill sets and make yourself more marketable for a management position when the economy turns around.

I’m using this time to aggressively seek my MCSE and get more involved in the local business community to network, network, and network. I simply never had the time to do any of this while managing.