Five Ways to Become an IT Star

Five Ways to Become an IT Star

Companies are looking for IT leaders who can be bona fide business strategists, which means more control, power and opportunity.

It's a good time to aspire to IT stardom.

For one thing, there's the growing number of IT leaders who enjoy celebrity status, people like Gregor Bailar (the former BankOne CIO who retired early to become a consultant and philanthropist), J.P. Rangaswami (managing director, for BT Design with an active blog and online presence), Douglas Merrill (Google's former CIO, wooed to go to EMI Music). Then there are the top-tier CIOs who command million-dollar salaries.

"Put yourself out in front of the crowd, be highly visible. Once you do public speaking often enough, you realize you have nothing to fear." John Halamka, CareGroup CIO.

Moreover, companies' view of IT itself is changing. Companies are looking for IT leaders who can be bona fide business strategists, which means more control, power and opportunity.

But you can't capitalize on such opportunity, unless you're getting noticed-and getting talked about. Quite simply, "being a best-kept secret will not deliver the promotion or raise," says publicist Wendy Serafin, principal of PR and marketing firm Nifares Group.

To make sure your unique talents and value stay-or get-in the spotlight, try these six ways of generating buzz.

1. Make friends. Often.

"A crucial piece of your job is actually to make friends with people at [your] company," says Penelope Trunk, former software industry marketing executive and current career columnist. Being hardworking and demonstrating excellence is important. However, Trunk points out, there's lot of research that shows people would rather work with someone who's likable and incompetent than those who are competent but not likeable. "And we also know intuitively that the boss always promotes the person they like the best."

Being a star is about buzz, and buzz is created when people talk about you. And "if you don't have friends, no one's going to talk about you," says Trunk. So put down that project work, and get away from your desk. Wander around the office and strike up random conversations. Go to lunch with coworkers, talk about common interests with your boss. Bring in bagels for your team. Above all, make sure the adjective "isolated" can't be applied to you.

To those who consider themselves too shy or introverted for networking, Trunk minces no words: "Get over it." Isolating yourself is career suicide. Socializing doesn't have to be hard either, Trunk points out. Those who find such social activities difficult may be putting too much pressure to say something sparkling and witty, she says. Simply being friendly, revealing a bit about yourself, and being a good listener goes a long way toward connecting.

2. Practice public speaking

CareGroup CIO John Halamka-who demonstrates his own brand of the supremely productive CIO-became so interesting to those watching him-as a geek doctor blogger, rock-climber, vegan, Japanese flutist, medical RFID chip implantee- that he became a star in a BlackBerry ad.

Like Trunk, Halamka emphasizes making social connections. "Look for any opportunity to not be in your office," he says-and in front of an audience.

Halamka also stresses the importance of talking in front of groups. "Put yourself out in front of the crowd, be highly visible." This applies not just to seasoned pros, but to those early in their career as well. "Even early on when my roles were much smaller, whenever possible, I put myself in the public eye in public venues inside and outside the organization to speak about the kind of work we were doing. Don't be shy."

That may easy to say for a guy who gave a PowerPoint presentation on a Jumbotron in front of 30,000 people at Gillette Stadium near Boston, but what about the rest of us? Start small, he says. He recommends starting with small groups but emphasizes that you should continue to challenge your comfort level as often as you can. "Once you do public speaking often enough, you realize you have nothing to fear," he says. After presenting in front of 10 people, you realize you can do 50, then 100, and so on.

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