"I feel very strongly that in order to be a chief information officer you have to be a computer scientist or an engineer. You wouldn't have a chief medical officer who wasn't an M.D. or a chief financial officer that wasn't a CPA or a chief legal officer who wasn't a J.D.," says Gold, who has a bachelor's degree in computer science.
Gold says companies that hire CIOs who don't have technology backgrounds do so because they have a business knowledge gap in the role. But, he adds, hiring nontech people as CIOs "closes one gap but opens another that's more risky -- which is not understanding technology."
Gold says he was exposed early in his career to CIOs who demonstrated both business and IT competencies and came to understand that both were necessary.
"I've always been focused on understanding how technology can be used to solve business problems. It's a mindset and framework throughout my career," he says. "You keep adjusting it as the needs change in the business, but the fundamental premise is to be commercially focused."
Donagh Herlihy, CIO and executive vice president of digital at Bloomin' Brands, started his career as an industrial engineer and moved into IT when he took charge of a failing ERP system implementation in the early 1990s at one of his former employers.
Herlihy, 52, says he moved up the IT ranks at several companies as the focus of the department and its leadership shifted, thanks in part to the rise of the internet and mobile systems and the consumerization of IT.
"We had this incredible decade of change, and it needs a very different IT function and a very different CIO. And the only advantage that I had in adapting is because I came into IT as a business leader. I always led IT from the perspective of business and the customer. I wasn't deep enough to argue bits and bytes, and that allowed me to stay close to and embrace sales and marketing," Herlihy says, adding that he also learned key insights into IT leaders' shifting responsibilities by networking with other CIOs.
Herlihy says he believes a CIO needs an MBA, broad executive education and/or work experience outside of IT because "you can't just contribute the technology." The responsibilities continue to expand, and he says he and others need to be ready for those changes.
"If you lead with the business first and spend a lot of time with your customers -- the internal and external ones -- I don't think you'll miss the pivot points. But if you try to lead from emerging technology, you will -- you'll chase the wrong ideas," he says.
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