Educate You

Educate You

Sometimes it is about what you know. But how do you learn what you know?

There is no prescribed educational route to the profession; no undergraduate course from which one emerges with the letters "CIO" freshly stamped on the forehead. CIOs emerge from teaching, from accounting, from the armed services, from computer programming. All are educated, but none have been trained to be CIOs, they have learned their craft from a combination of experience and judiciously selected education and training programs.

When CIO magazine asked CIOs what educational programs delivered the greatest career value, it uncovered a diaspora of opinion. Some CIOs favoured formal education from august institutions, returning to university to study for MBA or diploma qualifications. Others found nuggets of value in joining Toastmasters. Yet others studied their "ideal" CIO for clues, stealthily employing them as mentors. Each approach has served the CIOs well at different times in their careers.

Nick Brant is the head of information technology for Virgin Blue based in Brisbane. He has a Bachelor of Science degree, having majored in computer science at the University of New South Wales (UNSW). Brant's degree was courtesy of the educational programs run by the Duntroon military academy where he spent four years, and which he believes equipped him with many of the management disciplines critical to a CIO.

After graduating he became a lieutenant in the Signals Corps, supplying the voice and data communications for the brigade in Brisbane.

Looking back on the undergraduate study, Brant says that it gave him a good knowledge of programming and systems, of database design and a good theoretical knowledge. What was lacking, he says, "was project management, contract negotiations, which might have been useful but are very difficult to teach".

Brant, now 40, left the army in 1992 to work in the private sector, initially for IT vendors and then migrating into IT management, moving to Virgin as director of information systems in 2001. Although Brant started an MBA course by correspondence, he never completed it. "One of the reasons was the lack of time," he says. "You know, to get x per cent of information from a one-hour lecture you need five hours of reading in a correspondence course." So much of Brant's management learning has come through mentoring, with him seeking out managers he has worked with and tapping them for knowledge and understanding.

Mentoring also played a key role in the career of Ben Walker, a 35-year-old CIO in the finance sector who, like Brant, has a defence connection. Walker studied science/physics at Flinders University in South Australia. After graduating with honours he started working in information systems for the Defence Department, focusing on military intelligence. During his time with Defence, Walker was sent on a wide range of training courses to hone his technical skills. Today, though, having made the switch into the CIO role, he believes that reading and mentoring are his best sources for information and knowledge.

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