Climb the corporate ladder. Keep your eye on the ball. Pay your dues. A lot of the conventional wisdom about how to succeed in your career is sound, and the oft-recommended linear path upward frequently works well enough.
Many successful IT leaders are iconoclasts, however. They went against the grain, ignored advice or turned away from trends to find ways that were right for them. Here, they share some of their stories about the junctures where they disregarded prescribed career road maps, and they reveal how those choices helped them make it to the top.
Brian L. Abeyta
Advice I Didn't Take: "I was advised early in my career to take a road-warrior-type consulting job that would expose me to a wide variety of business areas. What didn't seem right was the potential impact it would have on my young family," says Brian L. Abeyta, who decided instead to try his luck as an operations manager at a large telecommunications company doing innovative work.
The Outcome: "I was in a position where I learned from some really sharp executives. They helped me to see how they maneuvered their careers, how they managed and led in the private sector, [how] to be bold," says Abeyta, now vice president of the IT management office at insurance provider Aflac in Columbus, Ga. He says he also saw how they successfully balanced their personal and professional lives.
Expected Move I Didn't Make: Bruce Brody started his career in the intelligence community, where most of his colleagues were moving ahead within that field. "But this was the 1980s, and computers were just coming into the mainstream in the federal environment. I decided to take a three-year stint in private industry to learn computer security in 1990 to '93 and then return to federal service as an information security professional," he says.
The Outcome: "That move resulted in my becoming the first executive-level chief information security officer on the civilian side of the federal government, and I'm still the only person ever to have served as the CISO at two cabinet-level departments," says Brody, now vice president of information assurance at Arlington, Va.-based CACI International, which provides IT and network systems for national security, intelligence and e-government initiatives.
M. Lewis Temares
Expected Move I Didn't Make: Job-jumping is a tried-and-true method of leveraging your skills to get ahead quickly in IT. But it wasn't right for M. Lewis Temares, CIO at the University of Miami. "There's something to be said for not jumping," he says.
The Outcome: Temares has built a successful career and developed a well-recognized IT organization during his 27 years at the University of Miami. "If you show you're a believer in the company, the people who work for you will be too," he says.
Advice I Didn't Take: When Dick Daniels started in technology, he was advised to build his career within the IT organization. "At that time, technology was emerging as a true profession, and there was a large demand for technologists. But I realized that IT is only useful when you apply it to a problem," he says. So he took a program manager's position and later became a chief operating officer.
The Outcome: Daniels is now CIO for both the auto finance line and the Greenpoint Mortgage business at Capital One Services Inc. in McLean, Va. He says his experience outside of IT accelerated his advancement into the executive ranks. "The advantage I had was some dedicated years to develop my business knowledge," he says.