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Unqualified IT managers

By wordworker ·
Recently I was in a meeting with a vendor, a company who licenses software to one of my healthcare clients, and I couldn't believe my ears. The Chief Technology Officer of this high company (with >$500 million annual sales) didn't know what VMware was, and had never heard of Citrix.

Is it just me, or is there a really bad trend in corporate America to promote "business" people to high-level management positions within IT? I mean, how can any self-respecting person function in a CTO position with so little knowledge of the IT world?

No wonder there aren't any career paths for REAL technology professionals -- airheads are being promoted instead of gearheads.

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by FluxIt In reply to Unqualified IT managers

There are many factors playing into jobs these days. Ideally one would think that qualifications are important but they are not as important as some other factors.

A position like CTO is part of what is called the inner circle in Corporate America. This inner circle is guarded by a gatekeeper and the members tend to be friends and family of the owner of the company. Often these people lack adequate qualifications but possess a degree of emotional security between the members of the circle.

At times because of strategic plans, a highly technical person (CTO) is brought into the circle to advance some sort of technology strategy. It is usually a first time for him in a CTO position. Because this person is from outside the inner circle the gatekeeper, who is usually opposed to bringing someone from the outside in, runs this individual off after about 18 months accounting for the high turnover in these positions.

The people in the inner circle do not think like you and me. The thought processes usually center business planning and financials and not on a specific technology. They tend to seek cheap sources of money to fund what the whim of the month is. ie the cost of capital may be only 4% but the internal rate of return may be 18% resulting in a 14% margin. Bank financing is usually very expensive cutting into the margin.

So in short, it is not a surpise that Billy-Bob does not know technology or even how to leverage specific technologies. Typically, he would review financial statements seeking ways to either glean cost out of the business or ways to increase revenue via the technology. Rarely, does technology glean cost out - it rather redistributes cost to other activities.

Lower level staff such as directors and line managers would come up with ways to make the guidance happen.

On another point, I find in lower level positions salary is more important than qualifications. One CPA hired a felon with a bankruptcy in his background to work with financial systems simply because he asked for $10k less than the lowest other. He had marginal experience and was fired one year later. The firm achieved what they wanted.

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re: unqualified

by afram In reply to Unqualified IT managers

I think it's true that non-propeller-heads are usually put in IT management positions. Something about lacking people skills to manage the team effectively - the company loses a good tech and gains a bad manager.

Starting off as a tech in the trenches is so important because you learn what the company uses, what problems need to be fixed, what is REALLY important, and what the company will need in the future.

I was one of two IT people at my last employer (me and the IT manager). My boss quit one day unexpectedly. Even though I had been there for 4 years, when I asked to take the management role, the president said he never even considered promoting me because he was going to hire an outsider. I convinced him that would be silly because I was most familiar with our systems since I set up practically everything. The pres was nervous about it, but he promoted me to manager after a 3 month trial period. I think it worked out well - the IT group usually completed 5 decent sized projects a year. We completed 23 my first year as manager.

I guess it helps if you are in a smaller company.

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Don't get me started

by jdmercha In reply to Unqualified IT managers

This is my biggest pet pieve about industry. CEO's are responsible to stock holders. Stock holders want to see a return on their investment. Top level managers must be finance guys in order to be able to understand ROI. To this end the role of a CIO (or CTO) is to sell IT ideas to the rest of the top managment team. If the CIO is not an MBA the managment team will not listen to him.

Thus a CIO needs to be an MBA and needs to have excellent sales skills. They do not need technical skills at all. The directors under the CIO need the technical skills and the ability to communicate their needs to the CIO, so the CIO can sell it to the top brass.

This leads to IT as being viewed as a cost to be cut rather than an asset to be leveraged. When companies start to fail because they didn't maintain a technology advantage, the pedulum will swing once more to hiring techies as CIO's. (Then when ROI goes down the pendulum will swing back again to the MBA's).

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by FluxIt In reply to Don't get me started

First, you need to understand that the government creates a cultures via the laws. The ONLY reason CPA's and the financial focus EVER came into such pre-eminent existence is because Congress requires them for tax accounting purposes. Overtime they have weedled thier way into every aspect of the business. In some cases, they do more harm than good.

Accounting actually looks at IT two ways; 1. as a expense to be written of the books, 2. as a capital asset adding to the value of the business. This is usually done when intellectual capital and property is at the center of the business. Traditionally, business views IT as an expense.

At the top management level, focus is not on operational or tactical details but strategic vision of the company. This is usually seen in terms of dollars. Technology will be sold to them in these terms; dollars saved or dollars earned.

The major problems lays in bridging that gap between the expectations and realizations regarding what technology can perform. Very few people are able to bridge that gap and narrow that gap successfully. It does take a hands on roll up the sleeves kind of person but not in the sense of an administrator or techie.

One major stumbling block is the sanctuary. Everyone loves thier rice bowl. Techies know how to do build a system better. Business people know how to make money better. It is the competitive odds that strain the workplace and make it difficult to achieve much.

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by dsimar In reply to Don't get me started

I would have to agree with the general theme of this thread because I recently attneded a CIO confrence in Rocehster NY and was suprised. Coming from corporate lever IT I started my own consulting business and it grew. Now with over 5 years under my belt I feel that I've left others in the dust be of my ability to forsee pitfalls and avoid them. Well while I was attending a local B2B Tech Expo in Rochester NY I was shocked at the ignorance of IT that a roundtable of IT Managers and CIO's had. It was literally like sitting in on a pre A+ class. These folks were asking BASIC questions that are answered in the first few days of A+. I was SHOCKED at how such idiots could be CIO's and IT Managers! Really in the End I felt really sorry for the Upstate NY business that were represented there. To top it off the WORST one of them was a local "CIO" from a Rochester College. This person was clearly a "presidential appointment". This person in NO WAY understood the basic concepts of the discussion or even chimed in anything usefull. I really feel bad for my local economy. If these people are helping to make stregic technology decisions in Western New York companies then WNY is going belly up soon. I also feel its a case of careless hiring too. NY is all too happy to hire "patronage" jobs. People who know someone and geta job. They don't seem to serve a purpose and suck a FREE paycheck but that's ok because they know the CEO peronsally or go to church with him so that makes it ok.

In the end I coudn't stand that roundtable discussion and left about about 10 minutes. These are the people I deal with constantly when I sell my IT service contracts and they stare blankly from across the table as I'm speaking. Its a sad time to be in such a great profession as IT.

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Generals, 1st Sargeants

by gralfus In reply to Unqualified IT managers

A leader shouldn't have to know all the details. Instead he/she should have trusted staff that know the systems extremely well, and seek their advice on decisions regarding those systems.

I had a former Army guy as a manager, and he said that good generals would consult their 1st sargeant on certain matters, simply because that man had been in the position for many years and knew all the potential problems and loopholes. They gave the sargeant leave to speak freely so they could get an honest appraisal of the situation.

The same holds true for companies and IT/Business. The CTO and CFO have to get great advice from their troops and then report to the boss and board so they can make an intelligent decision.

Unfortunately, there are not many companies where this is done, so millions to billions are lost on stupid decisions, wasted efforts, bad planning, and so on.

Another view on this issue is TQC. Total Quality Control should always assume that the line workers know more about their part of the process than the higher-ups, and thus should be consulted regarding technical issues. If they have nothing to say, so be it. But sometimes, they have insights that void plans that look good on paper.

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by lancean In reply to Generals, 1st Sargeants

Your response is the most in line with my thinking. The big danger is where upper management doesn't listen to the people who do know. IT systems have become more and more complex (I didn't say "better") and for the larger issues someone needs to do a balancing act. The most technical people probably have stronger technical biases, but of course a non-techy CTO is likely to have biases for other reasons. What I find most disturbing is that organisations have an ever increasing number of levels between the implementors and the top level. The opinion of the people who actually have to do the work - and more importantly maintain it - is much less likely to reach a CTO than in the past. But if the CTO is really good, they'll do their best to make sure they don't get all their advice from people who will never be directly affected by her or his decision. If the CTO thinks they are technical (and what's the chances of them _really_ being in touch?) then they may be less likely to seek all views.

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OK, but...

by Cactus Pete In reply to Generals, 1st Sargeants

Shouldn't a general have at least heard of a Bradly? Perhaps know what it does? I'm not saying he needs to know how to fix it in the field, or even use it [hands on] but should know it's there!

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Lots of reasons.......none have to do with IT

by dafe2 In reply to Unqualified IT managers

Years ago I remember a guy that worked for me was laughing and making snyde remarks about a doctor that couldn't figure out some "stupid" error on his PC......

I asked the tech if it was possible that the doctor had more important things on his mind - like maybe saving lives?

My point is we all have our roles and if we appreciate feedback and other views, we can advance in our careers & learn.
Officers of the company do not need details........just where & when to find them.

Simply stated, at this level you need a dynamic sales guy with an appreciation and respect for what technology can do to advance the business.

There really is a 50,000 foot view, and these guys give us a seat at that table. Most of these guys realize they have no "real" knowledge of IT, and rely on our expertise to make projects fly.

You just have to laugh........most of these types have that "can do" attitude that makes our jobs challenging & stressful all at the same time.

At our company, our CTO has a good respect for IT and realises he (more often than not)contributes a great deal of stress in our server rooms.

We remind him about the stress / hapiness ratio on many occasions :-).............HOWEVER some of his "oddball" ideas & procedures where actually very CREATIVE and have dramatically IMPROVED productivity and the RELIABILITY of our systems - hopefully your guy has a good sense of humour & appreciates his limits........and your valuable skills.

We can learn a lot from these guys.........they provide a very different view of IT.

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Agree 98%

by Busy_Bee In reply to Lots of reasons.......non ...

I agree with you that anyone at the "C" level should have the 50,000 foot view, and I appreciate you pointing out that this is an important part of the direction setting that trickles down into projects and tasks that make up our livlihood.

However, the CIO/CTO should have a firm understanding of current technology at the conceptual level, and also should have a good view of technical trends and what is happening in the tech marketplace.

It shouldnt scare you that your CTO cannot configure a Cisco router or hasnt programmed since FORTRAN77, or even cant cite the 7 OSI layers. But to my way of thinking, a CTO that needs to ask "What's a Citrix?" cannot make well informed decisions for his technology organization.

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