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Can a career in storage be a springboard to the CIO's office?

It's a good time to be working in storage. Since the dot-com bubble burst in 2000—just about the time companies were beginning to build storage groups—jobs have been scarce. But today, storage is increasingly viewed as the cornerstone of IT and prospects for advancement within IT are increasing.

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Bob Shinn, director of service delivery at State Street Global Advisors (SSGA) in Boston, took a serendipitous route to a technology career. With a BA in history, Shinn began teaching at the secondary level and then became involved with not-for-profits, running after- and preschool programs, adult sports and fundraising for the YMCA. It was at the YMCA that he was introduced to IT as a career. "I did things that needed to be done because a lot of people didn't have basic PC skills," he recalls. That willingness to step up, and the drive to stay ahead of users' needs, has shaped Shinn's career.

Most recently SSGA's storage manager—he built the organization's first storage team—Shinn has experience in large-scale data conversions, data mapping, project management, and process and workflow development.

"Being in storage didn't pigeonhole or trap me into a role," he emphasizes. Most of his IT experience has been at large financial services organ-izations that put a premium on data integrity, project management, process and methodologies.

In his career, Shinn has earned storage certifications, taken MIS classes and completed an MBA "to get a better understanding of what metrics provide both quantity and quality," he says. But he credits much of his success to the people he has worked with and understanding the business value of his technical knowledge. "My co-workers have made me more passionate about what I do," Shinn says.

Shinn's three keys to success:

  1. Pay attention to people.
  2. Enjoy learning and growing.
  3. Work with enthusiasm and passion.
But possessing storage skills and an improving economy don't guarantee career advancement. Storage specialists are faced with difficult questions: Will I be stuck in the role of storage or backup administrator forever? Should I specialize or become a generalist? Will an advanced technical degree win points, or is an MBA the better bet for earnings and professional growth? And how, between making sure backups run and the storage environment supports business demands, can I find the time and energy to take a run at the CIO's office?

While not all jobs lead to the CIO's office, there's room for advancement for motivated, technically astute individuals with communications skills, broad technical skills, business knowledge and flexibility.

"Folks in storage jobs can aspire to the CIO's office," says Paul Tallon, assistant professor of information systems at Boston College's Carroll School of Management, Chestnut Hill, MA. "But they need to get out of the bunker, put themselves in the shoes of the customer, take business and finance courses and, most importantly, take risks." (See "Profile of tomorrow's CIO".)

As data management and storage become increasingly important to a company's survival, "storage is a good place to get the connections and expertise in business that has been the bailiwick of applications-focused people," says Richard Scannell, senior vice president of worldwide delivery at GlassHouse Technologies Inc., Framingham, MA.

Scannell advises those starting out in storage to "get the broadest technical experience possible and then begin to specialize." He says it's possible to follow this track in a small company, where you'll be forced into everything, or in a big company that moves you into many different jobs and responsibilities. The most critical "skill" for advancement, says Scannell, is political know-how, backed with a strong knowledge of budgets.

This was first published in December 2005

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