Premier 100: Keeping your IT career on the move

Ever wonder how you can be ready to step up and become CIO if the boss leaves? Ever question whether reporting to your company's chief financial officer is in the best interest of the IT department, or your career? A panel of IT career experts answered these and other questions from attendees at Computerworld Inc.'s Premier 100 IT Leaders Conference yesterday. Some of the highlights from their remarks follow.

The IT jobs that will be most in demand five years from now: security, e-commerce and project management. Security is the safest bet of all because of the critical importance of protecting corporate systems and data, said Fran Quittel, an IT recruiter for the past 20 years and a Computerworld columnist.

How IT managers can position themselves to take over as CIO if that job opens up: "Hitch your wagon to a rising star," advised Quittel. Translation: Work on a hot project that generates increased revenue for your company. Get to know the company's business and people on the business side. Talk up your accomplishments and your ambitions.

What you can do if you think you'd be more effective reporting to the CEO instead of the CFO: You're probably stuck, according to the panelists. But you can work more closely to help achieve business goals by seeking to attend board meetings and making an effort to get to know business managers. And if you're taking a new job, you may be able to work out a different reporting structure beforehand. "Negotiate," Quittel said.

The chief difference between a CIO and a chief technology officer: It varies, the panelists said. In some companies, these positions are peers; more often, the CIO is the top dog on IT strategy, but it can also be the other way around. Some companies organize the positions along internal and external lines, with the CIO overseeing the traditional internal IT functions and the CTO getting involved in research and development.

Ways to develop young IT leaders:

-- Delegate parts of your job to give others the opportunity to learn those skills.

-- Establish a mentoring program, suggested John Tebbets, chief of global services and talent acquisition at e-commerce software vendor Commerce One Inc. in Pleasanton, Calif. That can benefit not just the mentoree but the mentor as well, added David B. Weldon, Computerworld's careers editor.

-- In the same vein, Quittel recommended the development of mentoring projects that give IT workers a chance to experiment with new skills outside their regular jobs. For example, she said, a talented engineer who needs to learn communication skills could do so in a nonthreatening environment. And if employees end up not liking what they're doing as part of the project, Quittel added, they simply stick with the responsibilities in their existing positions.

-- Look for people outside the IT department who show an interest in technology and an aptitude for working with it, Weldon said.