IDEXX Laboratories CIO, Ken Grady, writes that by mapping out skills and experiences necessary to achieve the next level in your career, it becomes easier to identify the projects and initiatives that will help get you there.

Like most young near-adults, I was mostly deaf to the advice of my parents. My stepfather had been a tool & die maker, a union rep, the head of an aluminum plant, and professional carpenter. Even as a relatively inexperienced young adult, that didn’t seem like a linear path to me.

The best thing you can do is always create options for yourself,” he explained.

I wasn’t one of those kids blessed with the foresight to know exactly what he wanted to be when he grew up (I’ve never met a 9 year old who’s told me “I want to be a CIO!”). But my stepfather’s advice has stuck with me over the years, and it’s informed how I’ve approached each step of my career.

Within that little snippet of sagacity, there are a couple of different – but equally important – nuggets of wisdom (my stepfather has always known how to pack a lot into a few words).

Revisit CIO Career Goals Regularly

Part 1: “Always create options…”

I re-visit my career goals at least every two years. (Not my work objectives, mind you; those I look at every week).

I think about where I want to be – compensation, level, title, organization, and role type. I might talk to a recruiter or a trusted mentor to get a perspective. I map my current skills or experience against the likelihood of achieving those objectives, and consider what I need to do to fill in those gaps, or leverage my strengths to stand out of the crowd.

At one point in my career, I was a ‘country CIO’ for a large, global pharma company. That gave me great general management experience, and shared services management. But in most organizations, the CIO has to have a real connection to the commercial strategy and ultimately the customer. Knowing we were about to launch a new product and create a new sales organization, I went to my boss and asked if I could lead the IT team responsible for supporting that launch. It was a much smaller team I’d be working with – going from around 120 team members to 15 or so. But it also put me at the ‘front line,’ and offered the opportunity to contribute technology innovation to solve a whole new set of problems.

Related Resource: Finding Your Next Great CIO Job

That was neither the first nor the last time I took a ‘smaller’ role that opened big promotions.

The experience was a career builder, creating connections, experience, and a perspective I’d have never gained in the “bigger” role, and a large part of why I was offered a company CIO role a year later.

If you want to maximize your options, you have to have a plan to put yourself in the path of opportunity. By having mapped out the skills and experiences necessary to achieve the next level, it becomes much easier to identify the projects, initiatives or roles that will help you accelerate your path to that goal.

Part 2: “…for yourself”

I’ve been blessed enough to have some great managers, terrific mentors, and wonderful HR partners. They’re great teachers, and sounding boards. However, the person that is going to do the most for your career is you.

Don’t expect your manager to plan your career. Don’t expect HR to plan your career. Don’t let someone else write your goals.

Some first time managers think there is a pre-ordained ladder or route to the top. Unless you’re in the police force or the military, it just doesn’t work that way.

Your destiny and your career growth are your responsibility, no one else’s. You have to know what you want, and what you’re open to. You have to design the plan to get there. You have to determine what experience and skills are necessary to take the next steps. You have to make sure you have the opportunities to get them.

The Dumb Luck Fairy 

I am often accused of having been lucky to be in the right place at the right time. And that’s true – I consider myself fortunate to have worked in organizations and locations that were exciting, engaging, and full of smart people.

But I will offer that almost anyone can be “lucky”; the trick is in recognizing when the Dumb Luck Fairy is knocking at your door waving her ‘Pay Attention’ stick. That’s a talent worth developing. Make sure you keep your eyes open for opportunities that offer you the chance to create unique or complementary experiences to the skills in your portfolio. Be curious, ask questions, and learn more.

Career mapping is seldom a straight line from internship to CIO. It’s full of  sideways/lateral/temporary/assignment/project/smaller/apparently counter-intuitive steps that open up doors.

There’s no “right way" to get from here to there. Be flexible. Embrace opportunity.

Help that Dumb Lucky Fairy come find you.

CIO career opportunities

Roles We Recruit


Read our weekly e-newsletter packed with career advice and resources for the strategic technology leader, and information about active searches.

The Heller Report

Add a Comment

Generative AI: 4 Questions CIOs Should Ask

Nov 29, 2023

Moving From How to Why: The Secret to Motivating Your Team

Nov 29, 2023