How to become a CIO

Unfortunately for IT managers looking to rise up and meet the challenge, access to the C-suite is now fraught with barriers

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How to become a CIO The requirements for an IT job are very different than they were five to 10 years ago
By  Tom Paye Published  June 25, 2015

When it comes to IT, you’re only as good as what you know. Technology advances at such a rapid pace that IT professionals need to pay close attention in order to keep their careers on an upward trajectory. But with so much expected of IT professionals, and with new technologies being released at such speed, IT managers face several barriers when it comes to developing their skillsets. Happily, there are best practices that can be adopted in order to make the road to becoming a CIO a little less rocky.

One of the major changes in the regional IT jobs market over the past few years has been the dramatic increase in levels of connectivity. Mobile data traffic grew 107% in 2014, outpacing the global average of 69%, according to data from Cisco. What’s more, the digitisation of business processes is creating greater demand for IT skills in the workplace in general, with the automation of business functions making it essential for workers to possess at least some ICT knowledge to perform their tasks. Managing those skills is falling to the IT department, which is broadening the IT manager’s remit – something a problem given the well-publicised skills shortage in the Middle East as it is.

“The challenge facing the industry is that manpower is not progressing at the same pace as technological development, with skills on the so-called third platform technologies becoming increasingly in short supply,” says Savitha Bhaskar, COO at Condo Protego.

“A 2013 study by International Data Corporation suggests that a shortfall in emerging networking technology skills, such as cloud computing, mobility and virtualisation, will make up 46% of the total networking skills gap by 2016.”

Indeed, even at the entry level, the requirements for an IT job are very different than they were five to 10 years ago, largely because of these shifts. The experts say that IT professionals can no longer specialise in one area of expertise without having a good understanding of the whole system and different resources within the data centre, and across the IT landscape.

“With the introduction of new technologies and trends like cloud computing and big data, IT professionals need to be specialists in one of the areas but at the same time have a good understanding of the other domains — essentially, he or she must be able to take a holistic view and understand how all of these technologies are converging and can be integrated to maximise enterprise productivity,” explains Ayman El Sheikh, solutions architect manager for the Middle East, Turkey and Africa at Red Hat.

Another thing to consider is the changing outlook of young professionals. Increasingly, organisations are looking to hire millennials for entry-level IT positions — particularly ones who can adapt to changes quickly, take a problem-solving approach, and work under tight deadlines. For some organisations, those qualities are even preferable to technical certifications and achievements — the thinking is that, as long as a reasonable knowledge of IT is there, the employees can pick up the rest on the job.

“Middle East IT companies are not necessarily looking to only recruit employees with pure technical IT backgrounds, as the industry offers a wide range of opportunities such as pre-sales, sales, project management, and consulting,” says Nelly Boustany, director of human resources at SAP MENA.

“With the 18-to-35 age group of millennials set to comprise 75% of the world’s workforce by 2020, many IT companies in the Middle East are targeting millennials for entry-level positions. As a result, 57% of the Middle East and Africa’s employers say millennials are impacting their workforce strategy, according to the recent ‘Workforce 2020’ survey by Oxford Economics and SAP.”

That said, attitude alone is not enough to gain entry to an IT-related job. Indeed, according to Biswajeet Mahapatra, research director at Gartner, the barrier to entry has grown larger, with organisations demanding, at the very least, an IT-focused university degree in computer science or something similar. Before, Mahapatra says, just some exposure to IT could lead to a job, but now organisations are much pickier about who they hire. And, he adds, some extra certifications on top of an IT-focused degree certainly help.

This becoming something of a problem in the Middle East. Only 17% of companies in the Middle East and India believe that it is either easy or not difficult to find talent for niche skills, including IT, according to a recent survey conducted by recruitment website Monster.com. The survey found that 68% of employers believe it is extremely difficult, or at least difficult, to hire talent for skills such as IT. Meanwhile, around 55% of the respondents said their recruitment department needs five to ten man hours to hire a technology professional.

And further down the line, 72% of respondents said that only two out of ten of their correspondences with job seekers actually convert into hiring, Monster said.

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