What It's Like to Be a First-Time CIO

What It's Like to Be a First-Time CIO

A 10-year veteran of corporate America gets a major dose of culture shock when he moves into his first CIO job at a privately held technology company

Relying on my go-to guy was a double-edged sword. Not knowing him very well, I didn't know if he was really any good. I also found myself becoming dependent on him over the first couple of weeks-especially as other developers, who had tired of being pulled in different directions by my predecessor, started leaving.

Then our most important system went down. Two weeks into my tenure, our core online advertising engine, iPMS, which tracks campaign activity and success rates and transmits leads to and from clients and vendors, stopped working. The application wasn't receiving leads into its database, so lead forms that customers were submitting weren't making their way into the system.

In our business, leads are our lifeblood. They're our product. So when iPMS stopped working, the sales team rightly started freaking out and raising hell. The sales director stormed into my office and asked, "Are we having a problem with the system?" I had no idea so I asked my development group what was going on. They ran some queries and tests and told me exactly what the sales director told me, "Looks like no data is being inserted into the database," they said.

I sat down and started looking through the code with them. Using pure systems logic, I quickly identified the problem. A lower-level developer had changed a core configuration file by accident during testing, and that change directed the application to a nonexistent database server-hence the reason why lead forms weren't entering our system. Within minutes, we fixed the problem, and just like that, we were back in business.

That was a big moment. Fixing a mission-critical problem engaged me with the business. It's a funny thing: I started in the CIO role with grand visions of how I was going to change the world, and yet it was this one minor system blip, which lasted at most five minutes, that was the catalyst that helped me build my confidence and that gave the company confidence in me. Go figure.

Things went South again a week later: My go-to guy gave his notice. I panicked. What now? I thought. I'm going to have a completely new staff who doesn't know the system and neither do I.

My go-to guy's quitting turned out to be a blessing in disguise: It took away my crutch and forced me to walk on my own. I had to lead the charge. Things started getting better, and I quickly learned the system-trial by fire, so to speak. I felt more powerful and far less dependent.

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