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The company you keep
Large organizations may offer the greatest number of opportunities, especially for people who are still in the early stages of their careers. Bob Shinn, director of service delivery at State Street Global Advisors in Boston, has spent much of his career in large financial services institutions.

"Don't be a drone," he advises. "To advance in storage and beyond, you need to find ways to work within the system, [but] don't just accept what happens." Shinn believes advancement comes to those who focus on adding the greatest value to their company and co-workers.

The type of company you come from is less important than what you've done. Once you've been at a large company for five years or so, it's time to think about your next move to a startup, small company, VAR or consultancy.

"What I like about the VAR side is the exposure to tools and problem-solving," says Vinny Choinski, backup practice manager at Daymark Solutions Inc. in North Billerica, MA. "VARs need to react, analyze and solve problems quickly. If your intention is to be CIO, it helps [to be] exposed to other people's challenges."

John Russell says consultants need to know the technology, understand processes and be familiar with the apps that need support. "Look for opportunities to interact with the part of IT closest to business units," advises Russell, a senior associate at Darwin Partners, a Wakefield, MA-based IT consultancy.

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He encourages storage experts to participate in the full lifecycle of projects, beyond implementation and support, and into requirements gathering. "You'll be able to work with business-unit clients to define need, develop the architecture and implement a solution," he says.

Reinforce your resume
In addition to technical competence, other skills are required to advance your career. You need to communicate and translate business needs into technical solutions, and be willing to lead or participate in teams.

Other important skills include:

  • Business, accounting and financial management coursework—MBAs have more value for CIO aspirants than do advanced technical degrees

  • Project management certification

  • Business law, especially contracts
Most important is the desire to advance. No matter what your background or training, the days are past when you can count on your company to have the same concerns about your career that you do. As one storage consultant put it: "To be an IT leader requires that you have the people skills of a Dale Carnegie, the negotiation skills of Henry Kissinger and the political ruthlessness of Karl Rove."

This was first published in December 2005

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