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The Path to the Top: Insights from Career Histories of Top CIOs

The Path to the Top, illustration

Credit: Lightspring

When searching for IT talent, the position of chief information officer (CIO) may be the most difficult to fill successfully. The impact of IT on business value and organizational performance has been extensively discussed in both the academic literature2,11 and the practitioner literature.5 All the findings point to the important role the CIO plays in the success of the overall business. This makes it important to understand the traits and characteristics effective CIOs share and the educational and workplace experiences that increase their likelihood of attaining and retaining the CIO mantle, so organizations may be able to identify and groom high-potential CIO candidates and provide career advice to aspiring CIO candidates.

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Key Insights


In the early 1980s, an in-depth look by Tanniru14 at positions held by IT managers before they reached their first leadership role identified two primary career paths: business and technical. A programmer or analyst entry position led to either a business analyst or technical specialist role. Each such role led to either an IT leadership position or a technical manager position. The past three decades have dramatically changed both the IT and the business landscapes. This is an exploratory follow-up to that study. The goal here, as it was then, is to track the career paths of senior IT leaders—CIOs—and use that information to guide the skill development and career progression of today's IT talent.


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