Career advice: Initiating change from below

Premier 100 IT Leader Randall Gaboriault also answers questions on the skills needed in QA and the wisdom of getting a doctorate

Christiana Care CIO Randall Gaboriault Ask a Premier 100 IT LeaderRandall Gaboriault Title: Vice president and CIOCompany: Christiana Care Health System

Gaboriault is this month's Premier 100 IT Leader. If you have a question you'd like to pose to one of Computerworld's Premier 100 IT Leaders, send it to askaleader@computerworld.com.

I jumped from one big corporation to another a few months ago, gaining a new title and a chance to work with some different technology. I'm happy with the move, but I'm struck from time to time with how my old company handled some things -- mostly to do with employee relations and communication, not the tech stuff -- a lot better than they do here. I've mentioned a couple of things, but I don't want to be the guy who's always saying, "Things were so much better at my old job." And it's not like I have a lot of experience. My old company was my entire career until now. What's the smart way of getting attention for these sorts of issues? You've already made a key observation: self-awareness of the danger of being "that guy." Pausing and reflecting, as you have done, is step one. Not all organizations perform well on the same dimensions; this may not be a lack of maturity or ignorance, but strategic choice. Though you believe there is a need to strengthen the environment, the organization may not actually be ready. Organizations can be very comfortable with their current state, even when immature or poorly structured. To initiate change, be realistic about timing. Organizations are complex organisms, and change does not happen rapidly, unless under threat. You need to build a coalition of support and seek counsel from the person who hired you for your skills, your experience, your fit, and ideally your potential. But don't frame comparisons; bring your thoughts forward as ideas and connect them to the goals of your new organization.

What skills and other attributes (including personality) are optimal for software QA professionals? The paramount attribute is self-evident within the title itself: quality. This means having an immediate and passionate connection to getting things done right, the first time. When done well, this role enables organizations to delight their customers with solutions that meet their needs and perform as expected, in a reliable manner. But optimally, QA professionals bring more than just a robust attention to properly complete the task components of the work. They should have an intuitive grasp of the critical value created by the role, which is to elucidate and extinguish previously unseen risk. They need a natural drive to understand the big picture and how their role enables the achievement of the intended outcome. They must feel responsibility for the mission of their organization and those it serves. Finally, they should have personal accountability to not just do the work with excellence, but to also find ways to improve it.

I'm the CIO of a midsize firm and content where I am, but I would like to pursue a doctorate degree. I am worried, though, that Ph.D.'s are seen as antithetical to the business environment. What do you think? You are defined by your actions and communications, both verbally and nonverbally, by whom you interact with and whom you do not, and by how you treat others and their ideas, not exclusively by your educational ranking. A Ph.D. is not at all incompatible with the business environment -- the wrong behaviors are. Others may form preconceived notions based on your degree, some may digest it as an asset, others a liability. You can disarm those notions by being tactful in how you deploy your academic dexterity. Collaborate; acknowledge and leverage the strengths of others, be respectful and share credit. Never use your degree as a weapon, for example as the reason for knowing something that others do not. Be sensitive to how you publicize your credentials; it should be consistent with the culture of your organization. Always introducing yourself as the Ph.D. may quickly draw the ire of colleagues.

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